Desmond Dekker

Compass Point

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The producer's role in reggae can never be overstated, they are the driving force behind the music, each with a sound as distinctive as any singer or musician. A fact that truly hits home when you stumble across a particularly bad production, and there are few worse out there than Desmond Dekker's Compass Point. Stiff was just too clever for its own good here, pairing veteran star Desmond Dekker with the reggae influenced artist Robert Palmer. Unfortunately, Palmer wasn't singing but producing, and "should never have happened" is the kindest term one can use for the results. Pick your nadir: the Sweet-esque stomper "Cindy" or the industrial-laced, new wave-y electronica of "That's My Woman," and pity poor Dekker, who desperately tries and fails to pull them out of the rubbish bin. Those are horrifying, but it's the reggae numbers that truly terrify, not merely because musically they're just soulless crap, but because in their sparse, synth heavy arrangements they actually foreshadow ragga at its worst. It's no wonder Dekker sounds so strained across so much of the set, as he attempts to single-handedly salvage the songs. Criminally, virtually all of them were worth saving, and in another setting they would have shone. "Isabella," for example, is presented in laughable deep roots style, but the singer's soulful performance drives home the song's true potential. "Come Back" is classic Dekker, and one can only imagine how big a smash it might have been in Leslie Kong's hands. "We Can and Shall" once was an overblown remodel of Dekker's hit "Pretty Africa." Palmer presents "I Do Believe/My Destiny" like a British Christmas single, but even his over the top production can't quite dampen Dekker's religious fervor. "Hurts So Bad" and "I'll Get By" are both infectious beating-the-odds songs, equally upbeat is the conscious "Big- Headed" and the bouncy bonus track "Moving On." These are the high points on the CD reissue; the low point comes with the disco-inferno cover of "Hot City" which, unbelievably, was actually released as a single. Oddly though, as gawdawful as it sounds in Dekker's hands, it would spark his former labelmate Jimmy Cliff, who would more successfully twin reggae and disco later in the '80s. One can only recommend this set as an object lesson. Hardcore Dekker fans will perhaps be capable of stripping away the dross to hear the beauty of the songs and admire the star's valiant performances, but they've got their work cut out for them.

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