Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Lee "Scratch" Perry

  • From the Secret Laboratory [Mango, 1990] ***
  • Lord God Muzick [Heartbeat, 1991] A-
  • Who Put the Voodoo 'pon Reggae? [Ariwa, 1996] ***
  • Jamaican E.T. [Trojan, 2002] **
  • Panic in Babylon [Narnack, 2006]  
  • Rise Again [MOD Technologies, 2011] ***
  • Rainford [On-U Sound, 2019] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

From the Secret Laboratory [Mango, 1990]
sane weirdo exploits mad genius ("Secret Laboratory [Scientific Dancehall]," "Inspector Gadget," "African Hitchiker) ***

Lord God Muzick [Heartbeat, 1991]
Prophesying, imprecating, free-associating, name-dropping, rhyming, gibbering, making animal noises, the big chief of the space police inquires into the demise of King Tubby, shoots the IMF, and conquers Chris Blackwell--among other things, all of which occur in his capacious head over Niney the Observer's equally capacious dub. Never as striking as the record he did for Blackwell, it's considerably more grooveful and sustaining. Open your ears and close your eyes, and he will give you a big surprise. A-

Who Put the Voodoo 'pon Reggae? [Ariwa, 1996]
dub for laughs--Newcleus's munchkins, Selassie's brother, Scratch's cock ("Small Morsel," "Messy Appartment") ***

Jamaican E.T. [Trojan, 2002]
crazy like a glue ("10 Commandments," "Mr. Dino Koosh Rock") **

Panic in Babylon [Narnack, 2006]
You say you didn't know Lee Perry won a Grammy for Jamaican E.T. in 2002? You say the nutty old dubmaster is hard to keep track of, living in Zurich and all? True, he's released some 20 albums in the four years since--twice that including compilations--and probably hasn't heard them all himself. So start here. It's song-oriented (OK, chant-oriented), with a 16-minute disc of remixes for the seriously spaced. Over typically well-deployed guitar-bass-drums-keybs, it starts strong, with an early peak at "Pussy Man": "Eminent, I'm the firmament/Emmy meant I'm permanent." Later, after doing Jah's work on the title cut, Perry turns to what's really on his mind, which is his mind. "I Am a Psychiatrist" is the masterpiece in question, and it sounds drawn from life: "Heal your pain/Bless your brain/Curse your name/From whence you came." Many songs express insanity. Not many encompass it. [Rolling Stone: 3.5]  

Rise Again [MOD Technologies, 2011]
Surrounded by such coequals as Tunde Adebimpe, Sly Dunbar, and Hamid Drake, he--uh-oh--behaves himself ("Orthodox," "House of God") ***

Rainford [On-U Sound, 2019]
Riddled with reissues, collaborations, bootlegs, remixes, and of course dubs, the Upsetter's catalogue is beyond comprehension. Post 2011, when he turned 75, Wikipedia lists 13 albums while omitting more titles than I'm mad enough to compare-and-contrast from Spotify's offerings; credits 30 undated albums to "Lee Perry" and 12 more to "Lee Perry &"; etc. But if you care about the greatest of the dubmasters, this project, overseen for the 84-year-old by great white dubmaster Adrian Sherwood, is an album that holds together. Is there a single track as head-turning as, to name a few personal faves, "I Am a Psychiatrist," "Messy Appartment," or "Poop Song"? Definitely the "Autobiography of the Upsetter" finale, possibly the "Cricket on the Moon" opener, but in the end it doesn't matter, because all nine tracks achieve both solidity and differentiation--sound good without sounding too much like any of the others. Take a wild guess and thank Sherwood, whose 1983 African Head Charge release Drastic Season has won my ears and heart as I've done my due diligence. I'll never know where this album stands or sprawls in Perry's oeuvre, But I do know that it will now replace 2004's Panic in Babylon as my go-to Upsetter. A-

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