Speak My Language

Inner Circle

Republic / Universal Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Why do I get the feeling that Inner Circle wants to not be remembered for the theme music from Cops?

The Jamaican reggae group has never really broken ground in America except for their contribution to the antithesis of Jerry Springer (unlike that crap, Cops is reality). For what it's worth, reggae has had a difficult time since the 1981 death of its de facto leader Bob Marley.

This all could change thanks to Inner Circle's latest release Speak My Language, an album that features the natural progression of reggae that I think Marley would have followed had he lived. One part pop, one part rock and with enough of the spice that makes reggae sound so unique, Ian Lewis and crew have created some very entertaining music.

Lead vocalist Kris Bentley leads the band with smoothly delivered vocals (though I honestly can't tell if he is also the one delivering the DJ raps in the songs). More often than not, the core of the band (bassist Ian Lewis, rhythm guitarist Roger Lewis, keyboardist/backing vocalist Touter Harvey and drummer Lancelot Hall) seem to break out of the traditional chugga-chugga sound that is the trademark of reggae music, substituting more pop-oriented rhythms in its place.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This is a surprise to me, though it really shouldn't be. You see, prior to Marley's death, he seemed to be experimenting with slightly different rhythms that went more towards rock ("Could You Be Loved") or even acoustic ballad ("Redemption Songs"). So, what Inner Circle really is doing is carrying on in the spirit of where Marley was taking the music - and in the end, it turns out to be a welcome change for reggae. (I should also have remembered that groups like Wailin' Souls were trying to put a new spin on reggae a few years ago.)

Songs like the title track (featuring ex-Arrested Development member Speech), "Party's Just Begun" and "I Love Girls" are all entertaining songs that you'll find yourself humming softly in the elevator on your way to the office. You can break out of the stereotype that reggae only sings the glory of Jah and marajuana; this type of reggae, while still having a bit of social commentary in it, is more feel-good music (though I'd stop short of calling it party music).

One track, "Da Bomb," gets two different treatments on Speak My Language. The original version which opens the album is a wonder to behold, while the dancehall mix is a throwback to the sound of artists like Mutabaruka, and doesn't really win over the listener. In a strange sort of way, the progression of the music hurts Inner Circle when they try to return to their roots.

Some of the tracks on Speak My Language are a bit forgettable, such as "We A Rockers" and "Not About Romance," but for the most part the music contained on this disc could be the lift Inner Circle needs to break out of the one-song-known mentality of some listeners. Quite possibly, this could be the first true breakthrough that Inner Circle has been looking and waiting for.

Speak My Language is one of the better reggae albums I've heard in a long time, and is one that can be and should be enjoyed by fans of many different musical genres, proving that music is indeed a universal language.

Rating: B

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Republic / Universal Records, and is used for informational purposes only.