Are You Ready?

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Back in the '70s and '80s, Steel Pulse and Third World were the epitome of crossover reggae bands that endured a lot of criticism from purists who felt that their commercialism was watering reggae down. But truth be told, not every reggae band that comes along is obligated to be as hardcore as Mutabaruka or Burning Spear; commercialism has its place in reggae as long as it's tastefully done -- and on Are You Ready?, Anthem reminds listeners that crossover reggae can, in fact, be tasteful. This 2004 release is strictly for those who like their reggae laced with big doses of urban contemporary and pop; no one will mistake Are You Ready? for the militant diatribes of Linton Kwesi Johnson. Actually, some of the tracks don't have a reggae beat at all; "Your Money" and the ballad "I Tried to Resist," for example, are really R&B/pop with Jamaican-style vocals, not reggae in the strict sense. The same goes for the disco-ish "One Slow Dance" (which isn't unlike something Frankie Valli would have recorded in the '70s) and a remake of "Another Day in Paradise," Phil Collins' commentary on homelessness. Can you picture Mutabaruka covering a Phil Collins hit? Probably not. But Collins, for all his glossy slickness, can be quite creative -- and "Another Day in Paradise" works enjoyably well for Anthem, whose members reject rigid genre restrictions and seem to share Duke Ellington's view that there are really only two types of music: good and bad. Are You Ready? isn't a five-star masterpiece, but it's a pleasant, respectable demonstration of the fact that commercial crossover reggae doesn't have to lack integrity.

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