It's a bit ironic that CLIFFHANGER earned Jimmy Cliff a Grammy Award in 1986. Stylistically, it is a far cry from the recordings that made him a star in the previous decade. The record shows off a smoother, more homogenized sound, with big guitars that spread like a wash or wail in the Van Halen style, chirping synthesizers, programmed drums, and other '80s touches. Lyrically, Cliff is less confrontational than in the past. With the exception of "Nuclear War," these songs generally avoid the social themes that one associates with classic reggae.
Of course, Cliff still works within the reggae style, but here it sounds less like the rhythm of resistance than the rhythm of the dance floor, with a souped-up beat and "biddly bongs" and "rub-a-dubs" aplenty. Upbeat, fluffy numbers like "Reggae Street" and "American Sweet" both rhyme their titles with "reggae beat." On a few songs, the Kool and the Gang horn section adds to the jaunty party atmosphere. Besides the ballad, "Now and Forever," most of CLIFFHANGER consists of simple light reggae that goes down as easily as Coca Cola on a hot day.