Black Uhuru

Anthem

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AllMusic Review by

During the period when Black Uhuru featured both Michael Rose and Puma Jones, the group increasingly incorporated elements from outside of reggae tradition into their roots-based music. Thanks to Sly & Robbie's rhythmic presence and studio wizardry, though, the band was successful at pushing the envelope without losing their reggae credibility. Unfortunately, the line was crossed during the production of Anthem. For one thing, the crossover musical strategies deployed on the album are blatant. The radio single "Solidarity" was the first track recorded by the group that was not self-penned. It features a sugary synthesizer melody, and other tracks utilize a rocking rhythm guitar lead ("What Is Life?") or an R&B song structure ("Elements"). Still, the fault lies primarily with the sound mixing, which purposefully de-emphasized the bass while adding trendy pop flourishes. Since Anthem won the first reggae Grammy in 1984, this strategy served its purpose, but the mix on Anthem pales in comparison to the mix on the short-lived import version. By foregrounding the bass sound and emphasizing more time-honored instrumentation, the import's mix makes reggae powerhouses out of "Try It" and "Botanical Roots" and infuses the import single, "Party Next Door," with a truly infectious and danceable spirit. In this mix, the album's pop innovations do not overpower the music's roots connection, and Island eventually endorsed it as the "original mix" on the Liberation anthology. That collection completely snubs the domestic versions, featuring every Anthem cut in its import mix, often in a "previously unreleased full-length version." In essentially reissuing the import album this way, Liberation displays Black Uhuru's music in the most advantageous light. The domestic release of Anthem, however, remains as a permanent document of reggae's commercial growing pains.

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