Keith Hudson

Too Expensive

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Richard Branson must have been tearing his hair out; the Virgin label head had gone on a spending spree signing a mass of Jamaican artists, hoping to cash in on reggae's breakout into the international scene. Among them was Keith Hudson, producer extraordinaire and artist of note, who had mashed up the U.K. club scene with his Pick a Dub album and the Virgin-distributed Torch of Freedom set.

"Introduce me," Hudson requests on the song of the same title, "and I'll be alright." And so Branson did, for he thought he had a cash cow in his hands, but as virtually all critics sneered at the time, the album title was all too apt. For Too Expensive followed Torch even deeper into the U.S.'s contemporary black music scene. "Introduce" itself was majestic soul, a rich R&B number with only the clicking hi-hats acknowledging Hudson's Jamaican roots. The title track was unadulterated funk without even a hint of crossover appeal. For white fans, at least, the epic "Civilization" boasted a slinky bassline, high-hat heavy beats, and a hypnotic feel, but there was still no escaping the funk -- not even on the instrumental version that closes the set, which, as its title made clear, was decidedly not a dub. And no eluding the fact that Hudson appears to be toying with assumptions. Why else counterpoint the rich romance of "Introduce" with utterly meaningless lyrics, or fill a deeply brooding roots number like "Smoking" with symphonic overtones? And when he did finally toss in a purer reggae number, like the cheery "Thank You Baby," it's so lightweight that even fans ran screaming for cover. Hudson sticks the knife in with "Where Is Your Love," juxtaposing sufferer's lyrics with a lovelorn theme. It smacks of irony -- a slap at white audiences' demand for culture, a cheap holiday in other people's misery wherein Jamaicans bare their poverty and oppression for the enjoyment of the rich north. Which makes "We Can Work It Out" even harder to swallow. Coming from Marley, one would feel comfortable holding one's cigarette lighter high, swaying along with the slow rhythm, and shouting along with the unity lyrics at the top of one's lungs. The entire arrangement deliberately provokes this reaction, which just heightens the feeling of crass manipulation dripping from the number. No wonder the critics were scathing, accusing Virgin of emasculating the hero Hudson or blaming the artist for selling out. But with time comes wisdom, and with that reassessment, and the critical tide eventually turned full circle. The masses wanted reggae wedded to rock, Hudson instead beautifully merged reggae to R&B in ways that no other Jamaican artist had ever conceived, and that is the record's genius. Marley had brought in the white masses; Hudson was trying to bring onboard black Americans while simultaneously attempting to popularize their own musical styles. He failed, majestically, but that was due to Virgin's inability to work the black market. If they had, it's conceivable the album would have subsequently crossed into the pop world. Branson wasn't savvy enough to realize that, and thus Too Expensive was Hudson's first and last album for the label. What a waste.

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