MAKING REGGAE VERSIONS of popular songs is not new – think Toots and the Maytals performing John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’, or Peter Tosh’s version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B Goode’, or maybe most famous of all, both Tony Tribe and UB40 covering Neil Diamond’s ‘Red Red Wine’.
But taking an entire album and reproducing it in a reggae style… well, that’s a whole new level. But this is where Easy Star All-Stars have found their niche. Previous releases include Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (twice), Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They have also released an album and EP of original material.
Easy Stars All Stars were founded in 2003 in New York by Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer and Remy Gerstein – a bunch of session musicians – and share their name with the label that produces and distributes their music. They are also good friends with New Zealand band The Black Seeds.
Easy Star’s latest offering, Thrillah, is a track-by-track reworking of the biggest selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Whether by design or not, the attempt at reworking a major pop album has allowed Easy Stars to move away from their reggae roots. The first two tracks, ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’, and ‘Baby Be Mine’ seem more Miami Sound Machine than reggae.
The reggae eventually arrives in the middle of the album with ‘Thriller’, ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’ being the outstanding tracks. The extra dub versions of ‘Thriller’ and ‘Beat It’ show what serious and good reggae musicians Easy Stars can be.
But they still do not reach the standard of their previous albums. Particularly with ‘Thriller’, an opportunity has been missed where the Easy Stars of old would have turned Vincent Price’s vocals into some full-on toasting. The sense of fun from previous albums is also missing, and there are no enjoyable effects like the ones used at the start of ‘Money’ on Dub Side Of The Moon.
As with their previous albums, Easy Stars have pulled in a few of reggae’s gentry, namely Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose. Rose’s effort on ‘Billie Jean’ is reasonable but Steel Pulse cannot save the ‘Girl Is Mine’ with the spoken vocals originally by Paul McCartney and Jackson ending up sounding clichéd.
Overall, Thrillah is a good crossover album and it might end up being a soundtrack to many laid-back barbeques though a long hot summer, mainly because it’s music we all know and possibly like, just different. But it doesn’t reach their previous heights and as such, is slightly disappointing. MIKE BATTEN