Lee “Scratch” Perry
If you don’t know who Lee “Scratch” Perry is, then there’s no way I can even attempt to summarize his importance to reggae music in these little tiny Ink 19 reviews; hell, no one could do that in a 300-page book. He didn’t invent dub, but he perfected it at his Black Ark Studios, which he later burned down; he produced the young Bob Marley and the young Clash; he has accused Island Records founder Chris Blackwell of drinking human blood; he has eaten money and made fecal sculptures in the studio; he has done more great stuff, and more weird stuff, than just about anyone in Jamaican music… or, really, any other kind of music. He’s a madman, he’s an icon, and (as he is fond of pointing out) he’s a god.
So the very fact of this album is massive: fifteen tracks of brand-new strange weird dub fire, on reggae’s most storied label, Trojan Records. But leave it to Scratch to flip the script on us. On this album, the music is mostly straightforward reggae without much in the way of studio trickery, but Perry contributes three vocal tracks to every song — one in the left speaker, one in the right speaker, and one right down the middle. This gives everything a freaky disorienting ping-pong flow that really challenges the listener on every level.
But this would just be an annoying trick if it wasn’t Lee Perry bringing all the ruckus. His rants, already free-associative in the extreme, are now triplified; he gets to answer himself, comment upon his own comments, and turn himself into a bickering vocal trio. Sometimes this works to his advantage (“Evil Brain Rejector,” where all the Scratches seem to be getting along), sometimes it doesn’t (“Mr. Dino Koosh Rock,” which just sounds like an outtake from The Three Faces of Eve). But it’s out there, for real, You could make a fascinating case for this being the most avant-garde release of 2002.
But is it good? Well, largely, yes. He’s got some funky beats and some pretty-voiced backup singers going on — Perry has eaten hip-hop whole and enjoyed it — and some songs, like “10 Commandments” and “Jah Rastafari, Jungle Safari,” have an irresistability about them that makes you think this could be the Album of the Year, but other songs are just exhausting and overripe with Lee on top of Lee next to Lee who is talking about Lee and it’s too much Lee. It could take hundreds of listens just to find out if what sounds like homophobia on a couple of these songs is actually homophobia or homophilia or just plain Scratch being a weirdo again. The idea that he’s talking some minor shit against gay people in one speaker significantly decreased my enjoyment of the record… but I could be wrong. My Oregon ears might be hearing things. Hard to tell.
Overall: split verdict. Some days, I have it pegged as a landmark in reggae music. Others, I want to accidentally lose the disc just so I won’t wade back into that verbal soup any more. But you know I’ll be keeping this album at hand, sorting through all its twists and turns like a lab rat lookin’ for Gouda. Or an Earth rat lookin’ for Godda. Or something.
Adventurous souls, give it a try, give into the beautiful and terrifying world of Scratch. Others, stay far, far away. You can’t handle the truth.
Trojan Records: http://www.trojanrecords.com