Last year’s Survival found Bob Marley close to his peak, boldly appraising global black unity from a Rastafarian viewpoint with his most biting and uncompromised music in some time. Uprising is that landmark album’s disquieting successor. The new record finds reggae’s foremost poet-prophet in a contemplative and pessimistic mood, secure in his religious beliefs but concerned about a gloomy future. If Uprising doesn’t snap one’s head back (as Survival did), it certainly proves unnerving with its alternating moments of exaltation and introspection.
The current LP opens with “Coming In from the Cold,” a glowing vocal performance that suggests limitless possibilities for the children of Jah. No sooner has Marley lifted us up than he brings us down with “Real Situation.” a brooding meditation on international strife that implies the inevitability of Armageddon.
And so it goes: personal and philosophical ecstasy versus inescapable political and social dissolution. “Work” and “Forever Loving Jah” versus “We and Dem” and the blistering attack on Westernized womanhood, “Pimper’s Paradise.” A real triumph on such a ball of confusion as this earth, Marley seems to think, would be strictly spiritual: Babylon isn’t ready to topple yet.
Though Marley’s vision on Uprising is fairly dark, the sound is full and bright, tinged with a lightness similar to the air-headed pleasures of Kaya. As if to dispel the sporadically glowering mood, the singer essays a reggae-disco synthesis in “Could You Be Loved,” complete with breathy backup vocals by the I-Threes.
In the end, however, Bob Marley leaves us with a stark testament: “Redemption Song,” which he sings solo, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. As the artist performs this folk ballad (with its aching cry of “Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom/’Cause all I ever had, redemption songs,” so reminiscent of the young Bob Dylan), one feels a man reaching out and grappling with the dreadful possibilities of liberation and disaster. Such a tour de force, like much of Uprising, is as moving as it is deeply troubling.