Stir It Up: Aotearoa’s Tribute to Bob Marley
Universal Music NZ Ltd.
We love a bit of Bob Marley down here in these shaky isles. Smear it on your toast. Rub it between your thighs. Slap it on a rainbow-coloured badge. Crunch it up between your teeth and spit out an inferior version. Kiwis love Bob Marley and his easy-skankin’ tunes are the soundtrack to summers where white folk move like white folk dressed in op-shop beanies and jeans and skin-coloured drapery as they mime smoking weed while smoking actual weed. This gets them closer to the brown folk of the mind, they’re sure, as they toke on the tunes. We’ve survived many tributes to Bob Marley – an annual event has been made out of his birthday given it’s the same day as our Waitangi holiday. Bob Marley was amazing. And his connection to New Zealand was – no doubt – pure. Heartfelt. We’re celebrating that here with a pretty fucking horrible collection of inferior versions of his songs. Never mind stirring it up, we know how to rub it right in.
Big name song-crusher Tiki Taane kicks this collection off, his drilled-up Get Up Stand Up arriving like mentos shoved down a coke-bottle’s neck. A big squelchy explosion of wubbzy, flubbzy bass fart is his new feel for the song. No feel. No idea.
Tomorrow People’s Buffalo Soldier is safer, tidier. But nothing to care about. Vince Harder teams with the HMG Choir to sleepwalk through One Love/People Get Ready.
Aaradhna makes a decent/ish fist of Could You Be Loved. Well, her singing is fine. She’s comfortable inside the skin of almost any song. And makes it hers. The problem here is you can almost picture the coloured dots placed on the keys ahead of the session; so rudimentary is the playing in support.
The big problem with this over-egged omelette is that no one has the feel right. Bob’s best songs were simply, joyful, joyous creations. Just get an acoustic guitar and sing them if you can’t do the rhythms.
House of Shem goes closer to playing the correct game of attempting the feel, instrumentally. But the vocal is embarrassing.
Oh and I take back what I said about just playing them simple on a guitar. Enter Thomas Oliver, his Is This Love wants to be Ryan Adams’ Wonderwall or M. Ward’s Let’s Dance. But instead it’s only ever an all-white version, reducing that supple, soulful reggae joint down to watery, woeful balladry. Just awful.
Okay, bring in the big gun. Bic Runga – an artist who knows how to take her time – plays the straight-bat on Redemption Song. Transferred from guitar to piano it pretty much succeeds because her voice is lovely and because the version stands up, the treatment not all that different. It didn’t need to happen, much like this entire album. But, like Aaradhna, she can walk away head held high/ish.
Laughton Kora attempts a smoky, haunted take on I Shot The Sheriff and…misses the point entirely. Cloaking the song in something that aims to be foreboding but should have been forbidden. There are bigger catastrophes on this album. But only just. This simply sounds like Che Fu singing in the shower, the dehumidifier part of the band.
Drax Project, named after the sound I involuntarily make when I hear their music, chunders out a treacle of a tune in the form of Turn Your Lights Down Low. You’ll wish they hadn’t.
Anika Moa’s Three Little Birds fits into that safety-game – that said the song’s melody is a jaunty wee hip-step tied to the song’s rhythm. So here it falls flat and is merely dragged along behind what’s left of the song. Her voice is a great gift. Here you’ll be hoping for an exchange card though.
And on we go.
The beachy-party-BBQ-reggae-vibe arrives – far too fucking late (and I can’t believe I’m saying that actually) with Dave Grace singing Natural Mystic and Katchafire’s Punky Reggae Party. Unity Pacific’s version of Exodus is the money-shot here. It’s still somewhat redundant but nailed down as well as any Kiwi reggae act is going to do it. I’d suggest you buy anything by Bob Marley first. Then anything by Unity Pacific after before touching this.
Oh yes, and then the big-finish. Hollie Smith gurgles up No Woman No Cry, doing her soft coo-into-strangled-gospel. That is her move. Her she’s hammocked by soft keys and backing vocalists. They guide her for the landing.
Ghastly turds here. No need for any of this to happen. Most of them are poking at the tunes with a stick, blindly navigating their way without any hint of an idea as to what the feel should be, without any clue of – or for – nuance.
The real tribute to Bob Marley is borrowing one of his albums from the library, or buying one from the store, or ripping the bloody thing from whoever. Just celebrate that wonderful music. Because it’s so brilliantly played and those are songs that have stayed written.
Here for 67 minutes we get no real spark at all. Not really even a hint of love – towards the music, I mean. It’s funereal and lurching and ponderous for the most part. Joyless and serious and sterile. They’ve been caught in the headlights, frozen to the spot as they attempt to play music that requires movement and heart and extrapolation. No amount of just feeling entitled to do this because the record company asked can cover for the mess that’s been scooped up off the studio floor. That’s all too obvious. When there is bounce and pluck it’s too little, too late, and not capable of the tall order that would be transcendence.
The best thing about amateur hour though is it only lasts an hour. One or two of the artists here can escape without conviction. The rest have merely wandered through the proceedings, also without anything approaching conviction – sure of their own brilliance perhaps and thinking their hand was on their heart. They’re wrong and this is a mess. And a cruel joke. And an embarrassment. And then far worse than that for the most part.