Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to The Police
Reggae (Dub / Ska)
Tribute albums can go either way. On one end of the spectrum, you have releases like The Electro Industrial Tribute to Korn and the countless Cleopatra Records tribute albums, including ’80s Metal Tribute to Van Halen (a fustercluck featuring different bits and pieces of defunct rock bands thrown together and billed as their original bands), We Will Follow: A Tribute to U2 (an industrial compilation featuring Cleopatra cover-album standards like Spahn Ranch, Razed in Black, The Electric Hellfire Club, Rosetta Stone and former new wave bands like Heaven 17 and Information Society) and The Song Remains Remixed: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin (which is exactly what it sounds like, and is just a horrible as you would expect it to be). This let’s-make-a-tribute-album for-the hell-of-it variation is unfortunately much more common than you’d think, though once in a very great while a halfway decent cover album (like the entertainingly garish Before You Were Punk punk tributes to new wave standards) manages to emerge from the rest of the garbage.
When I first received this album, I got a little nervous reading the press release, which touts the album as being “produced by Inner Circle (creators of the “Bad Boys” hit Cops theme)”. Oh, man. I was very close to pawning this off on someone else; however, after seeing the artists involved (a considerably talented roster featuring legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Toots & The Maytals, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy and The Wailing Souls), I admit, my interest was piqued.
Of course, a reggae tribute to The Police really should come naturally, as reggae (along with punk, new wave and rock) was one of the many influences that the band used in the forming its sound. Not surprisingly, then, it has been done previously, as with the two installments of Reggatta Mondatta (featuring high-profile artists like Chaka Demus & Pliers, Aswad, Maxi Priest, Inner Circle and Ziggy Marley) and the dismal Reggae Tribute to The Police (featuring… Rasta Control?).
While Spirits in the Material World features relatively high-profile artists, unlike the Reggatta Mondatta series very few the artists involved offer cross-over potential, save for the aforementioned Inner Circle, Ali Campbell of UB40 and an unexpected appearance by singer-songwriter Joan Osbourne.
Former Black Uruhu lead singer Junior Reid kicks off the set with a nice take on “Synchronicity I” (though I would have liked to hear part two as well somewhere on the album), and if you can live with the T-Pain voice effect (though not used nearly as shamelessly), it’s a fairly solid track. Inner Circle’s take on “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” (which Toots & The Maytals covered on the first Regetta Mondatta), as well as tracks by Tarrus Riley (“King of Pain”), Gregory Isaacs (“So Lonely”) and Cyril Neville (Wrapped Around Your Finger”) are all perfectly fine additions to the collection, but the real tracks that shine here are The Wailing Souls version of “One World (Not Three)”, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s “Spirits in the Material World” and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s “Invisible Dub”, along with highly catchy and entertaining versions by Toots & The Maytals (“De Doo Doo Doo De Daa Daa Daa”) and Pepper (“Can’t Stand Losing You”).
The only real misses here aren’t really even that terrible, but they more so seem out of place amid the rest of the gritty comp (which is the main thing that sets it apart from the more mainstream-friendly Reggatta Mondattas). Ali Campbell’s version of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” has a strange awkwardness about it, in both the sound and the tempo. Joan Osbourne’s take on “Every Breath You Take” is probably the only track on here that could be marketed as a crossover hit (though that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the compilation), and it accordingly sort of sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s not bad at all, but it just doesn’t seem to belong.
With the exception of those two tracks, this is a fairly solid compilation filled with contributions from the grittier, more dub-laden side of the genre. Like essentially every cover album out there, it has an exclusive target demographic. While it probably won’t be embraced by anyone outside of the respective The Police and reggae music circles, if you happen to fall into one or both of those niches, this is an enjoyable album and fine addition to your collection. It’s leaps-and-bounds better than that electro-industrial tribute to Korn and 98% of the Cleopatra compilations (interesting to note, however, that Lee “Scratch” Perry re-released Return of the Super Ape on Cleopatra Records… coincidence… OR CONSPIRACY?!?). Now, about that hideously designed album cover…