I bought Bob Marley & The Wailers Confrontation just for the cover, a picture of Marley dressed in Ethiopian colours mounted on a white charger slaying a dragon of Babylon with a lance, what’s not to love? especially when you open up the gatefold to be confronted* with an artist’s depiction of the Battle of Adowa when the forces of the Eithiopian Empire defeated Italy.
My memories of the music were a little hazier, okay so everyone knows ‘Buffalo Soldier’ but apart from that I think I filed under ‘reggae: weak’ sometime in 1999 and jogged on. Listening to Confrontation now I think that is a bit unfair.
Confrontation was released in 1983, 2 years after Marley’s death. A death that was deeply and sincerely mourned in my house, I can remember that night still. Knowing what a complicated litigious tangle his estate has been virtually ever since this LP has been compiled well and, mostly, sympathetically. Overseen by Rita Marley, Confrontation was put together from singles and unreleased/unfinished tracks. Backing vocals which had been provided by others were redone by the I Threes, to give the LP a more unified sound and the overall result is credible and certainly a damn sight better than a lot of our revered dead chanteurs have suffered.
For my money opener ‘Chant Down Babylon’ is the strongest offering here. There’s a touch of the grit and brimstone that I’ve always liked best about Bob Marley in this one. Plus it really doesn’t hang around at 2:37. The track ‘Trenchtown’ is also cut from the same militant cloth.
I’ve heard ‘Buffalo Soldier’ far too many times to be able to actually listen to it these days, it just is. It’s a really good tune but a minor star in the cosmos of Bob. What I didn’t know until last week was the history of the buffalo soldiers who fought for the US, which I found fascinating.
There is nothing as well-known or as good elsewhere on Confrontation but it still has a few good tunes. One of which is ‘Jump Nyabinghi’ which is a good jolly knees-up party tune, easily the equal of a lot of Marley’s humous** releases. ‘Blackman Redemption’ has a great low-slung groove, augmented with, as ever, some great guitar by Junior Marvin.
The one thing that grates with me are some of the keyboard trimmings on a few tracks, I have no idea if they were present on the original demos but stop it Tyrone Downie! You may have been Grace Jones’ ‘Jamaican Guy’^ but I can’t live with your distracting 80’s keyboard parps here, especially on ‘MIx Up, Mix Up’ and, most egregiously, ‘Stiff Necked Fools’.
My mother always taught me that if I couldn’t say anything nice about a track on a posthumous reggae LP then I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I shan’t comment on the strange reggae/disco/soul abomination that is ‘I Know’. Nope, not at all. It definitely sounds like the most produced track on Confrontation and there is the kernel of a good track in here somewhere, but stripping things down to make them better rather than layering them up wasn’t an idea which had much currency in the 80’s.
The LP closes in fine style with the Lee Perry joint production ‘Rastaman Live Up!’. You could argue it is more of a groove than a song, but you’d just be being an uptight crazy bald head.
There is enough righteousness and tighteousness in these songs to justify Confrontation taking up precious shelf space and it does have the air of a genuine attempt to tidy up some loose ends, rather than as an act of rampant cynicism. Of course Marley and his legacy would hit super nova the following year with the release of the Legend compilation.
Confrontation is definitely a worthy addition to any fan’s Bob Marley & The Wailers collection but if you are anything less then just grab yourself one of his classic 70’s LPs instead. Mind you none of them have a cover this good.
*see what I did there? I am on like Donkey Kong.
**which I’m guessing is the logical opposite of ‘posthumous’.
^it was about him.