Friday, July 16, 2010

'Most Profound': A Review of "Babylon Is Dead" by Franz Job

Ultimately and hopefully I think that the vehicle of music and making music is for making a statement in regards to something hopefully important. Of course, in a genre like Reggae music that’s something which is amplified more than in others because of the fact that our music is so often ‘message music’ or ‘statement making music‘ and is reliant upon that style for its qualities. So, within that scope it’s most interesting when someone makes a statement so powerful, or even potentially so powerful, that it can stand above most in a genre which builds itself, to a grand degree, on making statements. When I think of albums in this context, it’s usually ‘the best of the best’, but sometimes not. Of course, the two prime examples which come to my mind would be Sizzla’s ”Black Woman & Child” album and Buju Banton’s ”Til Shiloh”. Both of these albums not only made significant statements, but both were somewhat revolutionary as well. The former in terms of the genre as a whole, which at that point had grown in the minds of many to be somewhat stale and Sizzla came redefined the ‘parameters’ of what it meant to be a modern Roots Reggae artist. “Til Shiloh”, on the other hand was a bit of a personal revolution for Buju as it marked a transition for him through not only stages in his career, but in his life as well. I should also say that while writing this, another landmark album came to mind which would be Capleton’s ”More Fire”, which made a STATEMENT in the most literal of senses - Popularizing a ‘call phrase’ which has withstood the test of the past decade and figures to do so just as easily with the next (so the next time you’re at a King Shango show and he orders you to say “MORE FIRE!”, hopefully you’ll think of that). As I said, however, not every time we deal with and notice a very powerful statement being made is it to that level of undeniable quality; in fact, some times it’s very polarizing. An album I’d point to in this instance would be the ‘concept album’, ”Born Dead With Life” from Perfect. That’s an album which I like less and less every time I spin it (and I’m STILL working on it), but it was largely lauded, for the most part, for so many different concepts explored on the project (even on the cover, which was easily the best part of the album in my opinion). Definitely making BIG statements in a statement making art is a way to gain a great attention for oneself.

So, that being said, taking everything you probably (or should) know about Reggae music, what do you think is the single biggest statement one could make? How about ”Babylon Is Dead”? I would agree with that as evident by the massive double-take I most certainly performed when I saw the name of Franz Job’s debut solo album (I am so about to type ‘Franz Fanon’ EVERY time I type this man’s name) (biggup Franz Fanon). ‘Babylon', in the colloquial sense (in Reggae colloquialisms), has been built up as this grand caste of evil and everything that is wrong with the social world and, of course, its ultimate death is looked upon as the ‘reward’ of sorts for making this wonderful music, and to just very matter-of-factly state that its demise has ALREADY OCCURRED is huge! You might (should) remember just a few years back when Jah Cure (speaking of statements) was released from prison and you heard the same calls (and I was one of them making it) that Babylon was in fact deceased, but at least in that case there was a bit of a play on words (I.e. ‘Jah’s Cure has been released, therefore this disease - Babylon Is Dead’), with Job, on the other hand, it seemed as if he had just suddenly made the proclamation and I was curious as hell as to why he had done so. Thus began my rather strange journey into this very interesting album. I had actually heard the name ‘Franz Job‘, prior to seeing the album and that was largely due to the fact that he is one of the very few (and perhaps the most prominent to my knowledge) Reggae artists from out of the little ‘t’ in TnT, Tobago. And also he was apparently the founder of the very active Country Boyz Foundation, which I know very little about, other than the fact that they’ve been fairly active producers and released a few compilations and riddim albums over the years (most recently one for the very solid Country Life Riddim). So, while not totally a foreign name to my ears and eyes, Franz Job was someone who I’d never REALLY listened to. He certainly doesn’t fit into the - Queen Omega, Khari Kill, I-Sasha & Million Voice etc. - pack of artists that you normally encounter when dealing with Reggae from out Trinidad & Tobago (although he does record them) and I’m sure there’re many more people to whom those artists are quite familiar who don’t know Franz Job’s name and perhaps that’s largely due to the fact that he apparently quite a bit of his time (and may in fact live in) the UK, which certainly places him in a different category in terms of placement. Another thing very interesting thing about this project (before I get into this downright mysterious album, musically) is the fact that it comes via Faluma, essentially. Like all of the Country Boyz Foundation’s output, ”Babylon Is Dead” was released on Bacchanalism, which is a sub-label of the more familiar Faluma. Faluma is a label (who still hasn’t launched the rocket) which should be particularly familiar these days as they handle quite a bit of Soca which you can grab up digitally, working with the likes of Edwin Yearwood & Krosfyah, Tizzy & El-A-Kru and even The Mighty Sparrow (I think they just dropped most of, if not ALL, of his entire catalogue recently). So, if that wasn’t interesting enough, there’s still the matter of answering the question of how, exactly (or perhaps what caused it), is Franz Job going about placing a linguistic toe tag on Babylon. That question is answered on what has to be considered one of the most SATISFYING DISAPPOINTMENTS of an album that I’ve ever heard.

Getting into the music - I think the first thing you’ll notice about ’The Eclectic Country Boy’ is how similar he sounds to Haitian superstar, Wyclef Jean. He, himself, acknowledges as much and as a pretty big fan of Jean’s, I don’t think it’s a bad thing; you could certainly pick worse people to sound similar to (like Pras!). Wycle. . . I mean Franz Job gets things started out on his debut album, ”Babylon Is Dead” by unsurprisingly ‘flipping the script’ with the album’s obligatory acoustic set, the moving ‘We Can Live Again’. Of course this tune belongs at the end of the album, but in this case, we’ll let him go through as the tune EASILY to be one of the strongest tunes on the entire album. It is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, so much so that the seemingly harmless piece comes and at its end the ‘studio audience’ (I.e. whoever was in the studio when Job was singing), begins to clap! I’m one of them as well because that song is very very nice and lovely. The second track on the album, ‘Country’, not only proves to be the first of many of its kind, but it also proves to be the finest thing that I hear altogether on this project. First of all, you should take a look at the 8:00 clock on the tune (7:58 minus the two second interval) and then notice that by no means is it alone. In fact, this twelve track set checks in at nearly eighty minutes long due to the fact that seven of the songs are eight minutes or longer in length? Why??? The answer is that on seven of these songs, you’ll get the full vocal tune followed by the dubbed out version! Sort of like Chezidek’s recent damaging album, ”Judgement Time” (although in that case the tracks were actually separated, not so here), Job has chosen to include the dubs which is a very nice idea. The song itself is wonderful and as a country boy myself, I’m probably partial as hell, but definitely the very easy and relaxed vibes of this one carry through from Charlotteville, Tobago to St. Ann, Jamaica and hopefully to wherever you’re from, town or country, because this song . . . TEARS! And if that weren’t enough ‘country’ for your ears, next up is another pretty good countrified tune, ‘The Country Boy Song’. This one kind of careens all over the place, but it’s kind of/sort of the herbalist tune for the album, that is most certainly the prevailing sentiment here, but it’s not as straight forward as it usually is when I throw that title around (particularly check the final full verse on the song and the dub is WICKED here, probably the best here). All in all, I’m definitely enjoying the start of the album, but still I’m left wondering how ”Babylon Is Dead”.

The answer is the disappointing on two levels. First of all, I should’ve known. Secondly, because the answer is, of course, Obama, it takes away the counted on likelihood that I had mapped out for this REALLY intensive and exhaustive dissection for some other type of explanation. The title song isn’t very bad at all actually, but, again it’s Franz Job’s Obama song. Just like Sizzla, Cocoa Tea, Mighty Sparrow and that dude from Antigua (and like 400 other people also), Franz Job has a tune espousing on the election of the US President. I maybe wrong, but I don’t think any of those artists go as far as to proclaim Obama “the God on earth”, however, and the tune actually is one of my least favourite on the entire album, although that most certainly has something to do with my disappointment at its subjectry, because the tune itself isn’t very bad. That isn’t the only song on ”Babylon Is Dead” to deal with that matter either. The earlier effort, the anti-brainwashing ‘Not This Time’ does so as well:

“Barack Obama, him strong and him mighty
And he is walking in the flesh of The Almighty
That’s how I know that Jah Jah never left we
Hail up Selassie and Hail Marcus Garvey”

And it relies on that matter much less and, at least to my opinion, is a stronger tune than the title track when it uses something like such as an ADDITION to the point being made, rather than the actual lion’s share of the point itself (if that makes any sense at all). There’s also ‘We’ve Won’, which is perhaps even more laudatory and glorifying of Barack Obama than the title song and oddly enough . . . I kind of like it. Again, I do have a bit of an issue with the kind of overstated title, but this tune, unlike the actual title song, isn’t directly a line drawn from the title to the subject matter of the song. Instead, the song is about CELEBRATION and HOPING that the future will be better, not ASSUMING that it already is. I have absolutely no problem with that AT ALL and I like the tune and the vibes of the tune as well (it just sounds good). We can also look at the very Marley-like ‘Tell Them [In Tobago], which has a most perplexing and absolutely LUSH line in its midst, when Franz Job says:

“Go tell them preachers and teachers that their works must end.
Tell them that our God and Saviour is a man, just a plain man”

Now, as a Rastafarian (at least I think he is), you can take this very Marley-ish/Tosh-ish line, rather easily, in one direction, but given the nature and nature of the subject of the album, you can’t immediately make that leap to His Imperial Majesty. It’s an absolute gold mine of thought for someone like myself and trying to grab bits and pieces of other portions of the tune trying to figure out one way to lean, at my most embarrassingly nerdiest of moments, could easily keep me entertained for HOURS!

Obama is absent, linguistically, as ”Babylon Is Dead” heads down the stretch and the while those moments don’t exactly electrify, the album doesn’t suffer much because of it, if at all. ‘Every Day’ is probably the best of the rest with its very refined old school sound. The tune is, essentially, a social commentary, but it has such an easy ‘way’ about it that it hits you more sonically and THEN you have to go back and grab up the messages expressed. It’s yet another very interesting piece for the album. And then there’s the changeup, ‘Smack Upside Your Head’, which is pretty much a Hip-Hop tune to my ears. It seems to utilize the same riddim (or a version thereof) as Hip-Hopper, Shyne’s combination with Barrington Levy, ‘Bad Boyz’. The song is basically a slap (literally) at those amongst us whose heads, hearts and intentions are just in the wrong ass place at this point, “you need a - Smack upside your headddddddddddddd!” The song ‘Tobago’ doesn’t start off headed towards being the easy going gem of a tune you might’ve imagined it would be, but after the beginning, it certainly does become something like that (at least). It seems to be a bit biographical for Job as he relates a story of growing up “in the beautiful countryside of Tobago”. The very familiar and Wyclef Jean/Stephen Marley sounding ‘No More’ is actually a pretty odd jilted lover song (despite the first thing you hear on the tune which DEFINITELY will lead you in a different direction) and it isn’t the best thing you’ll hear on ”Babylon Is Dead”. However, it should be said that the RIDDIM on that tune is WICKED and thankfully it’s one of the eight minute monsters on the album so when it dubs out you get one of the most sublime moments on the entire piece and if I called another tune the best dub, I’m well changing my vote to this tune. Lastly, seemingly having found a proper replacement for the girl with whom things didn’t work out on the previous tune, on ‘One Last Moment’, Franz Job has found the love of his life and sounds happy as hell because of it (and rightly so). This tune is very vibrant and colourful and it’s really just a feel good vibes and this album could do nicely with just such an extra tune and certainly one to end matters on a very high note.

Overall, of course I’m kind of conflicted. The album isn’t, ACTUALLY, the playground of concepts and huge statements being made that I thought I’d dig into by wrapping my brain powers around, but . . . Well it kind of is. ”Babylon Is Dead” is SO unusual that even though I didn’t get what I expected, I got something else arguably just as interesting to think about and to conceptualize and for that reason I’m going to suggest to two complete polar opposite sets of fans. First of all, if you’re like me and you LOVE to sink your teeth into something a bit different (although not too much), because you’ve been listening to Reggae from the crib and rattle, then this album may pique your interests. On the other hand, if you know nary a damn thing about the music and are coming from more of a Hip-Hop or ‘world music’ (whatever the hell that means) type of a background, then you may enjoy this one as well. You - Kind of casual - Fans who sometimes listen and sometimes check in, you won’t like this most likely. It’s too far away from ‘center’ to give you your fix and it’s probably too close to give you your fix in another style. Still, it definitely deserves to be said that Franz Job did quite a remarkable thing in naming the album what he did. I’m sure I’m not the only Reggae head who paused when I saw the title and while it wasn’t something I hoped it might be, in the ART FORM of making statements, Job makes one of the biggest of all time.

Rated 3/5

Franz Job @ Myspace

1 comment: