Spirits in the Material World:
A Reggae Tribute to The Police
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Wed April 16, 2008, 02:00 PM CDT
Having reggae artists cover the songs of The Police is such a self-evident idea that it’s amazing so few collections like Spirits in the Material World have been issued. On the other hand, The Police so shamelessly stole reggae riffs and attitudes — especially on its first few albums — that it also is easy to see why no one thought there was much point in doing it. Here, in the 21st Century — a time when popular culture is "eating itself" and everything is being regurgitated at a breakneck pace — the obviousness of the enterprise clearly didn’t serve as an impediment to getting this project off the ground. Considering that its underlying concept is to give Jamaican musicians a chance to reinterpret tunes that essentially were appropriations of their cultural heritage, it’s safe to say that Spirits in the Material World is a prime example of postmodernism in its most blatant form. Fortunately, there are enough enjoyable moments on the endeavor to prevent it from being a complete failure.
Not surprisingly, the songs on Spirits in the Material World that are the most successful are those that deviate from The Police’s original arrangements. Among the most enjoyable cuts are Toots and the Maytals’ inspired reading of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da, which certainly has to be considered one of the most disposable singles in The Police’s oeuvre. Toots Hibbert’s husky voice and ska sensibilities turn the familiar version around in a way that transforms this dud from Zenyatta Mondatta into a full-tilt rocker. The Wailing Souls’ rendition of One World is a roots-rock classic that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Wild Suspense, the band’s 1978 masterpiece. With his wonderful performance of Invisible Sun, Horace Andy reminds listeners that he still possesses one of pop music’s greatest voices. In a similar vein, Gregory Isaacs — who is, perhaps, the best-known crooner from reggae’s golden age — gives a stirring, lovers-rock-style reading of So Lonely that shows he still has "the touch," despite the many years in which he was sidelined by a crippling cocaine addiction.
Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks on Spirits in the Material World are hit-and-miss. There is nothing particularly wrong with Joan Osborne’s version of Every Breath You Take or with how UB40’s Ali Campbell delivers Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Like most of the cuts on the album, though, neither artist really says anything new.
Spirits in the Material World makes a solid case for the value of an iTunes account. After all, the act of cherry-picking a few songs from the set doesn’t diminish the overall effect of the music by robbing them of their full-album context. If the producers had taken a few more risks and experimented with innovative arrangements, this record could have been considerably more interesting. As it stands, however, Spirits in the Material World provides nothing more than a diversion that is passably engaging but ultimately harmless.
Of Further Interest...
Spirits in the Material World: A Reggae Tribute to The Police is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box