Review Summary: Put on Courage To Grow and drift away for a little while - one of the best modern reggae/rock albums out there today.
Well, I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a long-time reader of the site and the countless reviews here. However, this is my first review. I’ve always had a broad musical palate, if you will, and I’m looking forward to reviewing many more albums across several genres and hopefully contributing to the SputnikMusic community.
Rebelution are all phenomenal musicians for what they play. Everything just seems to fit beautifully in the songs, and there’s a perfect balance between the instruments. No unnecessary vocal flare or obnoxious drumming. At times, the songs do sound sort of monotonous, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, it does get a bit repetitive at parts, but it’s done very tastefully, as all the songs have a similar feel, and are written about similar things - it’s definitely not as bad as you’d think. Eric Rachmany (guitars/vocals) is a smooth, melodic singer, whose voice is just sublime (no pun intended) for this record. Wesley Finley (drums) does an awesome job behind the kit, keeping the traditional reggae shuffle feel in most of the songs on the album. However, I have to admit that my favorite part of this album is the songwriting - it’s all stuff we can mostly relate to. Songs like the title track, “Heart Like A Lion,” “Feelin’ Alright,” and “Other Side” are exceptionally well-written, in my opinion. Put this album on after a long day at work or school, and you'll just get lost in it.
1. “Courage To Grow” is an beautifully smooth, typical reggae song, complete with horns and keyboard. It’s written about what it sounds like - having the “courage to grow” and better yourself as a person. Eric does a great job with the vocals on this song, with lots of variation in contrast to some of the other songs, climaxing at the end of the last chorus with a long, held-out high note before a heavily distorted guitar solo. However, one of the coolest parts of this song is Marley Williams on the bass. Steadily pumping in the background, he pushes the song along incredibly well. Like I said before, everything just fits in the balance, and just flows. Awesome song.
2. “Heart Like A Lion” is our next track here. This one has a much more prevalent guitar, and the melody and chorus are driven by a heavily distorted riff. The lyrics are pretty well-written here too, “Don’t turn your back on yourself ‘cause there’s nowhere to run / and you know your life ain’t no practice run.” Trying to remind us that we need to live life to its fullest, since we only get one of them. However, it's a pretty generic song instrumentally, and is one of the weaker songs on the album, but not at all a bad one.
3. I remember when I first heard Rebelution - a friend of mine came over one night, and he asked me to put on some music. When he found out I didn’t have this album, he immediately expressed his disgust and had me drive him back to his house so he could get it and play it for me. “Safe And Sound” was the first song he played. It’s easily the most accessible song to those who have never heard of the band, and is a good introduction to Rebelution. One of my favorites on the album, it’s probably the most melody-driven track on the album, and it’s got the sort-of droning, monotonous feel that the title track does. It’s got some nice clean guitar, typical syncopated keyboard, and that bass just pumping through the background. Definitely a must-listen.
4. “Feelin’ Alright” is the first song so far to feature an acoustic guitar, giving a sort-of melody in the intro and choruses. This song is pretty simple, it’s about being happy, relaxing, and (quite obviously) “feelin’ alright.” The message of the song is really easily conveyed through the minimal instrumentals, it’s a really mellow song with great vocals. The lyrics pretty much summarize the effect the album has on me, “Well it’s a struggle - every day we’re stressing, but what’s a life without dedication" / I’m trying to pick up the soul’s intention to soak in music relaxation.” Another great track.
5. “Ordinary Girl” is a warm, lighthearted love tune about someone who is “no ordinary girl.” This however, is the only song on the album I consider to have “cheesy” lyrics, if you will. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful song, the message is relevant, but the lyrics are just cliché. Other than that, it's a good song - catchy melodies, happy-go-lucky mood, and good vocals. I just wish I had a bit more to say about this song, but it’s pretty simple.
6. Clocking in at a hefty seven minutes, “R Way” (obviously a play on “our way”) is the first song of rebellion on this album. It’s all about questioning authority. “You fool the people but the youth are on the rise, rebels on the prowl in disguise / Unquestioned regulation my friend, patriots long been in the skies looking over lies / Let us fight, light the night.” Musically, this song sounds a lot like the title track, in that it has the horn harmony in the intro, and a similar feel and mood to the song. A bit lacking in the vocal department on this one, and probably the weakest track on the album, but by no means a bad song.
7. “Attention Span” is a bit of a change of pace, it’s different than the others so far. It’s a sweet one, one of the best on the album. It’s beautifully dreamy, with clean electric guitar and Eric delivering one of his best vocal performances on the album. The balance between the band members is just gorgeous, you’ll have to listen to really understand what I mean. Funnily enough, the song is about meeting someone who seems very familiar, but can’t remember his or her name. He wonders, “Is it me, or is it my attention span"”
8. “Green To Black” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s a really dry, melody-driven song, heavy with keyboard, courtesy of Rory Carey. Obviously about indulging oneself in a hearty helping of marijuana, Eric sings, “I’m feelin’ that herb when the sun hits my face” and “There ain’t no crime smokin’ herb.” Pretty straightforward. What makes this one of my favorites is the droning feel to the song - how you can just sit and zone out to it, yet still pay attention to it at the same time. You’ll just get lost in it. Phenomenal song, absolutely a must-listen.
9. Uh-oh - we have wah pedal! “On My Mind” opens up giving us a mellow shuffle feel with some palm-muted guitar before some dreamy keyboard kicks in. The chorus in this song is also pretty straightforward, with “Love is on my mind” repeated throughout. Some of the other lyrics in the song suggest more risqué things, such as sexual frustration, “You’ve got me screaming from the top of my lungs, when are you ever gonna give me some"” Cool tune, definitely a good one.
10. “Running” is all about manning up and confronting your problems. “Tell me what you’re running from, she said ‘everything and everyone’ / Tell me what you’re running from, because your past, it can’t be undone.” Musically, it starts off sounding like “Green To Black,” with the dry guitar and heavy keyboard, but it is its own song in and of itself. The best part of the “Running” is its bridge, it’s got a minor-key feel to it, and really helps convey the mood of the song. It’s a good jam, check it out.
11. “NightCrawler” is just plain awesome. It’s got the typical reggae shuffle, the signature monotonous vocals from Eric, and is probably the most radio-ready song on the album. However, the instrumentals are exceptionally well-written, and you’re almost forced to listen to them, as opposed to the songs before that you just drone to and get lost in. The keyboard plays an awesome part in this song and gives it a beautiful mood. Definitely a good tune.
12. The first time I heard the intro to “Other Side” I honestly thought Kanye was about to break out in typical overrated hip-hopper fashion and start rapping. Thankfully, I was proven wrong when the song kicked in with it’s upbeat shuffle feel. It’s one of those happy, lighthearted songs that you can’t help but like. It’s got an infectious sing-along chorus, and good lyrics. “Instead of taking life for granted, I feel lucky to be alive / good how I’ll feel inside, and from now on, we’re taking big strides.” You just feel good after listening to this one, sweet song.
13. “Safe And Sound Dub” is just a mix of “Safe And Sound.” The dub mix is a neat track, but it’s basically just the song without the vocals. While it gives you a solid chance to appreciate the instrumental work, I do wish they gave the album a more solid closing track.
For the record, I chose to review this album for a few reasons. One, there wasn’t a review for it. Two, I felt like it would give me fresh ground to write my first review on - I’d hopefully get an honest opinion on my review, rather than have it be compared to other reviews right away.
One last note...I don’t smoke weed, nor do you have to smoke to enjoy this album. Although I have a few friends that say it’s a totally different experience, I think it’s safe to say Courage To Grow is an excellent album, in any state of mind.
-Green To Black
-Safe And Sound
Footnote: Rebelution's sophomore effort, Bright Side Of Life, is to be released this Tuesday, August 4th, 2009.