Although it was 1988's Red Rose for Gregory that really fired the imagination of international audiences, Private Beach Party, unleashed three years earlier, was immensely popular in its day, and drove reggae fans worldwide to distraction. Both sets were produced by Gussie Clarke, and boasted some of his most sizzling rhythms.
In 1985, ragga was beginning to steamroll across the Jamaican dancehalls, but Party still has a wonderfully organic quality, even though it's aimed straight at the sound systems. The musicianship is superb, with Sly Dunbar, Willie Stewart, Lloyd Parks, and Robbie Shakespeare laying down the sizzling rhythms, while guitarist Willie Lindo, pianists/synth players Franklin Waul and Robbie Lyn build up the melodies and moods, and the superb brass section of Dean Fraser, Nambo Robinson, Chico Chin and Dave Madden take the songs to new heights.
And what glorious heights they are. Clarke has the wizard's touch, and can take even a sweet and intimate number like the title track or a bubbly love song like "Special to Me" and conjure up plenty of dancehall fire. And no matter if Isaacs himself is in "Bits and Pieces" after his lover leaves, the band refuse to let him dampen their spirits, lost in the mellifluous groove they're creating, which reaches a sizzling climax on "Promise Is a Comfort," while the singer himself bemoans his lover's promises meant nothing. "Wish You Were Mine" boasts the kind of backing that will send even the most despondent into an irie mood. "Feeling Irie" itself is almost it's polar opposite, a thumping deep roots rhythm fueling a stunning duet between the Cool Ruler and the even more glacial Carlene Davis. The cultural numbers are if anything even more spectacular. The pressure's getting brutal on "Let Off Supm," it's tough and taut rhythm building up the tension, while Isaacs eloquently delivers up this potent sufferer's song. "Better Plant Some Loving" is even more heartfelt, a haunting warning to potential gunslingers that without love, they will harvest only woe. The song boasts one of the singer's warmest and most soulful performances, beautifully reinforced by the brooding blasts of brass. The horns are also integral to "Got to Be in Tune," which exquisitely offsets the stiff rhythm, and counterpoint Isaac's sanguine every man for himself theme.
There's not a mis-step within the entire set, and every song is so high-caliber that's it's useless to try to pick favorites. With its varied moods, both lyrical and musical, fleshy arrangements, rousing rhythms, and Isaacs at his emotive and vocal peak, Private Beach Party is a masterpiece, and arguably surpassed Red Rose itself. A timeless album, that has lost none of its power in the intervening years.