Bob Marley & The Wailers

Tuff Gong / Island Records, 1977


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The time is 1977. Imagine you're Bob Marley: you narrowly survived an assassination attempt in your Jamaican home a year before, and you've had to leave your homeland and go to London. You either bottle up your emotions and put out a happy reggae record, or you unleash your furor and create a pissed-off one. Which do you choose?

Time's up. The answer: you do both. The end result of Marley's journey is appropriately titled Exodus, and contains some of Marley's best work to this point.

The sides could almost be divided into two separate albums. The second side (of which 80 percent has been re-released on the 1984 best-of Legend) contains some of Marley's most poppy music, and has proven to have withstood the test of time. "Three Little Birds" is a pretty love song, featuring some killer keyboard work by Tyrone Downie. Marley's backup vocalists I Threes (featuring his wife Rita), who always were a high point of any Wailers release, especially are given a chance to show off on this side. Also featured on this release was "One Love / People Get Ready," which shares writing credit with Curtis Mayfield (but damned if I can hear the "People Get Ready" reference). This song became the theme for tourism ads for Jamaica - ironic, seeing that Marley's music wasn't widely embraced in the upper circles of Jamaica until after his death in 1981.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If another song sounds like something you've heard on TV, you're thinking of "Jamming," which deserved a better fate than to be thrown onto the end of a Budweiser commercial. There is one "down" moment on the second side with "Waiting In Vain," a song about lost love. Marley's vocals are especially noteworthy here - I've never considered him a strong lead vocalist (albeit a good one), but this track begins to show his maturing in the role.

If side two is a "welcome to Jamaica, stay awhile" theme, then side one is a "fuck you and what you've done to the lower class" message. Just the track titles say it all: "Guiltiness" and "The Heathen" are two prime examples. Also heard in a few of these tracks is a touch of the London influence that Marley had to have absorbed. This music is not reggae in the strictest meanings of the word. There is a slightly different shuffle heard in Carlton Barrett's drum work, as well as the overall songwriting of Marley. It's subtle, but he's managed to weld a little bit of '70s rock into his music. (Even on side two, you can hear it, especially in Julian Maroin's hot guitar solo on "Waiting In Vain.")

The anger is plain to see on "So Much Things To Say,"especially calling to mind Jesus and Marcus Garvey (the latter of which I cannot claim to have much knowledge about). Also, the title track is a scathing commentary on the "present day" that Marley was living in and the future of the social class he came from: "We know where we're going / We know where we're from". The use of the talkbox (previously showcased by artists like Peter Frampton) is used for the perfect purpose here - as a vehicle for a message, not as a show-off like "look at my new toy" move.

But in all of his anger, Marley refused to forget about the attempt on his life. "Guiltiness rests on their conscience", from "Guiltiness," opens up a track which seems to be his response to the gunmen. He refers to himself as a "small fish," while those who were against Marley and the Rastafarians were the "big fish" looking to crush them. I would be hard-pressed to say this whole side speaks of the attempted murder and his leaving Jamaica, but one could make that argument from some of the lyrics. It's hard for me to say; I've always found Marley to be, at times, difficult to understand in the diction department.

Like almost every Bob Marley album, this one seems way too short; its ten tracks fly by all too quickly (though the title track clocks in at almost eight minutes). But twenty years after its release, its message is still crystal clear: enjoy life, but don't forget the injustices done to you and your neighbor. Exodus was a powerful listen in 1977, and it's even more powerful today, now that Marley is no longer with us. Damn shame - one wonders how reggae would have benefitted from his being on the scene all this time.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 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 Tuff Gong / Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.