City Lock [Single]

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Ladbroke Grove duo Drummie Zeb and Tony "Gad" Robinson, aka Aswad, may be second only to UB40 in terms of the U.K.'s most successful home-grown reggae outfit, but ever since the departure of founding member Brinsley Forde, they appear to have been suffering from a severe case of writer's block. After 2002's covers album, Cool Summer Reggae, and 2006's remix collaboration with techno producers Rhythm Riders, their third studio album as a duo, City Lock, sees them yet again plunder their extensive back catalog in a bid to revive the chart success they last achieved back in 1994. Apart from guest appearances by rappers Solomon and Richie Dan on reworkings of 1976 self-titled debut album track "Natural Progression" and 1981 album New Chapter's "African Children," respectively, and the slightly more polished production on their 1983 Live and Direct classic "Roots Rockin'," Zeb and Gad have wisely ignored any attempt to modernize their authentic reggae sound, but while these faithful renditions avoid destroying their legacy, they still fail to override the overwhelming sense of pointlessness. Luckily, the rest of its 11 tracks, apart from an unnecessary reggae-fied reworking of Howard Jones' '80s hit "What Is Love?," show that Aswad are still capable of recapturing their classic dub-heavy sound without always looking to their glory days gone by. The infectious riddims and long-term collaborator Sweetie Irie's gritty faux-Jamaican tones on the title track and "Do That Thing" are convincing attempts at modern dancehall; "Calling" and "Give Me Your Love" are reminiscent of the sun-soaked gently lilting lovers rock tunes that saw them top the charts back in the '80s; and the horn-laden "Weary," laid-back "Dub It," and old-skool "Monday Morning" effortlessly evoke the streets of Kingston that have so obviously inspired their 35-year career. City Lock is perhaps Aswad's best body of work since 1994's Rise and Shine, but if they'd had the confidence to stop relying on their more familiar material, it could have been their most essential since 1986's To the Top.