Message to the World

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After his '80s heyday, Yellowman may no longer have ruled the dancefloors, but he continued to release a steady stream of fine albums, and while critics were not always enthusiastic, the DJ's large fan base certainly was. But the nonstop pace of touring and recording seems to have finally taken its toll, for on Message to the World Yellow seems to have started to run out of steam. Partially this is due to the album's riddims, so crisp, so spare, so lacking in atmosphere, and so mid-tempo that the DJ has to work twice as hard to stir things up. By rights, live bass, drums, and guitar should give the backings a warmer feel, but so computerized is the production that even the richest one-drop rhythms sound robotic. Perhaps that's partially why the frisson now just fizzes out. But otherwise Yellow has only himself to blame, as on the lush, non-reggae-fied cover of "Love Me Tender," which provides an ample reminder of why DJs should stick to toasting. And who can possibly have thought that Yellow singing Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" was a good idea? It says much about this set that one of the tracks that packs the most punch, "Maximum," is as slack as they come. The cultural "I Cry" is equally potent, but there, Yellow's paired with sparring partner Snakeman. Only on "Mind You Catch AIDs" does Yellow alone hit his cultural heights of yore. It's a pity, because the DJ does indeed have a message for the world, and a clutch of cultural themes. But the best toasts are delivered with the least energy, and the others fall flat. All told, a surprising dip in quality from one of Jamaica's most reliable performers.

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