Black Uhuru – Brutal

by Apr 21, 2024Artist, Reviews

Black Uhuru - Brutal

Release Info

Label
RAS RECORDS / Diggers Factory
Format
LP / CD
Street date
May 2024
Contact
Website Record Label

Tracklist
SIDE A
1. Let Us Pray
2. Dread In The Mountain
3. Brutal
4. City Vibes
5. Fit You Haffe Fit

SIDE B
1. Great Train Robbery
2. Uptown Girl
3. Vision
4. Reggae With You
5. Conviction Or A Fine

After being unavailable on vinyl for decades, Black Uhuru’s 1986 album Brutal is finally getting a reissue! French record label Diggers Factory is handling the release, offering both a remastered LP and CD version. The LP will be pressed on high-quality 180-gram vinyl and feature the album’s original artwork.

Brutal

The year 1986 marked a turning point for Black Uhuru. Following the departure of their iconic lead vocalist and songwriter, Michael Rose, the band found themselves at a crossroads. They had also severed ties with Island Records, the label that had propelled them to international acclaim with several critically lauded albums. The reggae landscape itself was undergoing a seismic shift, with the arrival of digital riddims pioneered by the likes of Jammy and King Tubby in 1985. Brutal, their first album with the independent label RAS Records, did not embrace these digital trends. However, producer Doctor Dread wasn’t afraid to shake things up. He steered Black Uhuru’s sound towards a more contemporary direction, incorporating elements of dancehall, new wave, and other styles that were dominating the international music scene. This shift was further emphasized by the decision to record many tracks in the US, a departure from their usual Jamaican base, and the collab with producer Arthur Baker. The new direction proved to be a double-edged sword. While the album retained the core riddim section of Sly & Robbie, some critics felt Doctor Dread’s production overshadowed the band’s signature sound. Junior Reid, the new lead vocalist, was also scrutinized for his attempts to emulate Michael Rose’s style. Despite the mixed reviews, Brutal did achieve commercial success, earning the band a Grammy nomination. While it couldn’t replicate the spectacular Grammy win of their previous album, Anthem, Brutal stands as a testament to Black Uhuru’s willingness to adapt and experiment, even in the face of significant change.

Infectious Energy

A fitting entry point for the album is the title track, because this high-octane song exemplifies the album’s overall energy and sonic direction. It’s a powerful track, bursting with the infectious energy that fueled Black Uhuru to success on albums like Anthem and Red. Then there’s City Vibes, a track that evokes Black Uhuru’s roots reggae sound. Featuring Puma Jones on lead vocals, the song incorporates guitar and synths for textural variation. However, a more stripped-down approach might have achieved a cleaner sonic profile. Infused with an infectious energy, Fit You Haffe Fit perfectly captures the spirit of the era’s burgeoning body-movement trend. This dynamic track seamlessly blends Black Uhuru’s signature roots reggae foundation with a propulsive dancehall riddim, creating an irresistible invitation to get moving. The album opens with a compelling track, Let Us Pray. This offering seamlessly blends the time-honored elements of roots reggae with a propulsive, contemporary riddim. Behind the production desk for Responsible is Steve Stanley, a familiar collaborator who understands Black Uhuru’s sound. Their prior work together shines through in this track, creating a perfect balance between tradition and innovation. Dread In The Mountain showcases the band’s songwriting prowess, though the guitar solos arguably stray from the song’s thematic core.

Pulsating Beats

The two tracks, Vision and Reggae With You, return to a more standard drum and bass pattern. Vision, featuring Duckie Simpson on lead vocals, offers more lyrical depth, while Reggae With You delivers a final burst of upbeat energy, celebrating the joys of reggae music. Great Train Robbery, however, takes a sharp turn in a different direction. Despite the intriguing title (which, interestingly, has no connection to any actual train heist), the track bears all the hallmarks of producer Arthur Baker. A renowned figure in the music industry, Baker was known for his innovative production techniques, often incorporating remixes for other artists. True to form, Baker throws everything he has at Great Train Robbery. Layers of synths create a futuristic soundscape, pulsating beats drive the riddim, and even rock-inspired guitar riffs make an unexpected appearance. This sonic cocktail was undeniably successful, propelling the song into the heart of the club scene. However, the heavy influence of Baker’s signature style leaves little room for the classic Black Uhuru sound that fans know and love. The closing track Conviction Or A Fine stands out as the most faithful representation of Black Uhuru’s classic style, reminiscent of their earlier work. This undeniably strong track bears the clear influence of co-founder Duckie Simpson, further accentuated by Junior Reid’s impressive vocal performance.

Overall, the album showcases a diverse range of influences and production styles, making it a compelling listen for fans of reggae and dancehall music.

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