Bob Marley Lester Bangs - Essay

Lester Bangs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bob Marley and his Wailers will probably be around long enough that we can afford to wait for his next one, or even the one after that if he keeps screwing up. Nothing would please me more than to be able to tell you that "Exodus," his latest, is a masterpiece. It isn't, though it doesn't reach the nadir of "Rastaman Vibration" either. What it is is a bit schizoid, perhaps from culture shock or too much ganja. Side two sounds almost entirely as if it were made up of out-takes from that previous album—thin little pop love tunes perfectly suited for covers by Hall and Oates. If your idea of heaven is to have somebody crooning about God as background music while you sip piña coladas, you're welcome to it.

As for me, I'll take side one, which is hardcore Rastafarian doctrine (I'm not a believer and you don't have to be one either; it's the soul and conviction of this music that's moving) and some of Marley's strongest recorded work in a while. Even though anything as didactic as the Rastas' message was bound to become predictable (if not altogether formularized) in short order, there is an elemental poetry (as in Natural Mystic) and ineluctable propulsion (as in Exodus) to this music that no other genre duplicates. But Marley had better watch it. If he keeps on trying to walk a tightrope between Jah and bubblegum rock, he's liable to turn into the Sergio Mendes of reggae.

Lester Bangs, "Marley & Tosh: Progress Report on Reggae," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1977 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 39, No. 3, September, 1977, p. 96.∗