You’re hit and happily reeling right from the first track. A bass so deep and low it makes your ears redundant, mainlines straight to your heart. An eerie-but-sensual atmosphere of almost infinite dimension, led by drums beamed from deep space. And the voices? Harmonies dreamy and self-absorbed; sudden yelps that jump out of the mix and slap you into concentration; and an unmistakable, sweet, soulful tenor, authoritative yet beautifully fluid, seducing you into the benefits of being a ‘Soul Rebel’. Put [a]Bob Marley[/a], Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingstone, the Barrett brothers rhythm section and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry into a studio, and the magic was so real you can still feel the sheer adventure, the thrill of the reggae new, 30 years later.
Astonishingly, up to and a little beyond the point that Marley and co recorded these 113 tracks at Perry‘s Upsetter studios (between 1969 and 1970), the Wailers were little more than another of Jamaica’s struggling vocal groups. Within three years, Marley was to become reggae’s Elvis and Beatles rolled into one, but many aficionados would claim that he never bettered his work with Perry. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence of this six-CD collection of “all known” Wailers/Perry collaborations. This roughhouse, futuristic doo-wop is occasionally oddly out of tune, uncomfortably distorted, yet startling in its bravery and maverick otherness. The effect is as if a still-hungry Beatles had worked with Brian Wilson while he dreamed up ‘Pet Sounds’.
[/I], the filthy, farting analog synth fanfare – you can only conclude that it invented Suicide. Except that these were proper Jamaican hits, the blueprints for the international reggae ambassadorships of Marley, Perry, Tosh and Livingstone, the JA equivalent of the massive rewrites of soul possibility that Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye were hatching in America at the same time. In short, true pop art.
OK, there could be more info in the box about other featured vocalists such as Carl Dawkins and the great Big Youth. And maybe some of the alternative versions and dubs could’ve gone on their own separate CD (even ‘Soul Rebel’‘s appeal wears thin four times in a row). But, with early versions of classics like ‘Small Axe’, ‘Satisfy My Soul’ and ‘Kaya’ all present and correct, that’s like slagging off paradise for having too many swaying palm trees. This is, quite simply, some of the most innovative, influential and deliciously sexy head music ever made. As many Marley reviewers have already pointed out: it hits – you feel no pain.