Toots And The Maytals – ‘Got To Be Tough’ review: reggae legends keep up the good fight

The influential band's first album in more than a decade is rarely subtle, but Frederick'Toots' Hibbert remains an inspirational force for change

Toots And The Maytals’ status as one of music’s all-time greats is unassailable. Their 1968 single ‘Do The Reggay’ literally gave the genre its name, and subsequent hits ‘Pressure Drop’, ‘Monkey Man’ and ’54-46 (That’s My Number)’ are immortal.

With their joy and defiance in the face of adversity, their music has inspired one generation after another and will continue to do so ad infinitum. When it comes to ‘Got To Be Tough’, their first album of original material in over a decade, frontman Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert and co. are a band with little to prove.

Nearly 60 years since they formed, The Maytals’ message of resistance remains the same, and there are few surprises to be found on this new record. It’s bright and glossy, full of boisterous horns and chugging guitars. It’s a maximalist record, every corner crammed with one noise or another – subtlety is not the order of the day.

Take their cover of Bob Marley‘s ‘Three Little Birds’: assisted by Marley’s son Ziggy, they supercharge the world’s most mellow song into a blaring, clattering noise. ‘Having A Party’, which comes immediately afterwards, is almost manic, with scuzzy guitars wailing and duelling around a core of rowdy ska.

Though often overpowering and, by the end of the record, a little wearing, this palette provides a consistent buoyancy and energy – and there are plenty of times when The Maytals turn it to their advantage. The steamrolling opener ‘Drop Off Head’, for example, finds Toots on fine form as he boldly proclaims the need to keep striving against the slings and arrows of everyday life, as thick, bluesy guitars churn behind him.

However straightforward the record’s instrumentation, Toots himself remains as unique as ever. His charisma, which always elevated The Maytals above all others, is still evident in force, and the record is at its best when this is pushed to the forefront. On ‘Stand Accuse’, the blaring music drops for a minute into a muted dub as Toots, his voice brilliantly soulful and slightly cracked, express his wishes for more light to come into the world.

On the record’s title track (and finest moment), he meditates on his own mortality as he mourns the continuing existence of slaughter across the globe. “Things may be hard – so hard – but we have to overcome it,” he sings. It’s the message of this record – and of his entire career – in microcosm.


Toots And The Maytals Cover

Release date: August 28

Record Label: Trojan Jamaica / BMG Records

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