By Alex Ward
This man needs no introduction. Jimmy Cliff the Ska/Reggae legend is back with a new album. Rebirth is his first release in eight years and forty years since his break through album The Harder They Come. What makes this even more special is the collaboration between Cliff and Rancid Lead singer Tim Armstrong – I think it makes this record something else, that Armstrong has helped produce it. The record is the first where Cliff has collaborated with someone in this way.
Growing up on Jimmy Cliff I just couldn’t wait to get my teeth into this album. His unique reggae style comes through from the moment you click play. ‘World Upside Down’, with its soft electric organ, has lyrics of world issues such as equality and poverty. A real dancing tune ‘One More’ has that classic Ska up and down beat which gets stuck in your head and shouting for more. ‘Cry No More’ is where you can really hear Armstrong’s influence with the whirling electronic organ which he uses so much on his Rancid and Transplant records. It’s a softer song than most, but still it’s a great listen.
‘Children’s Bread’, on top of having a great reggae beat, speaks millions about the world’s economic issues through something as simple as “They took the children’s bread and gave it to the dogs”. Political messages are strong through out Rebirth such as ‘Bang’ about everything from creationism to making a stand. What really knocked me back is Cliff’s cover of The Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’. It is a match made in heaven and one I am sure Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and Topper Headon would be proud of.
After what must be forty-five years in the music industry, Cliff reminisces about the genre that made him famous in ‘Reggae Reggae’. It’s a great dance song but not one of his strongest I must admit. It really feels too much like a presentation made to an old persons home than a rock and roll hall of famer song. Saying this, Cliff isn’t just about Ska songs. ‘Outsider’ is a motown-esque song, which makes you want to dance like James Brown when he feels good. Like I said before Jimmy doesn’t just write samey songs. “Rebel Rebel” sounds like a collaboration between him and Manu Chao, so it sounds more like Latin reggae, which I love.
As well as helping to produce the album Armstrong I think really influences Cliff. For the legendry singer to cover Rancid’s hit ‘Ruby Soho’ must have brought tears to the producer’s eyes. However, and I am sad to say this, Cliff doesn’t really finish off the record as well as he should. ‘Ship Is Sailing’ puts you straight on a boat sailing the seas of Jamaica and should be one of the record’s singles. However ‘Blessed Love’ is just an average song about appreciating love, which sounds too preachy. Overall however, Jimmy Cliff hugely impresses me and really he is back with strong vengeance.