This is brutal.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the album most longtime Sizzla fans were anticipating most this year is a disappointment. Sounds strange to say considering how great some of these tunes are, but give me a minute to explain.
Basically this album is two separate animals – genetic cousins, but not identical twins by any means – wrestling for control. There is the modern (but still rootsy) Sizzla on tracks like the several-years-old singles “What’s Wrong With The Picture,” “Burn Dem Schism,” and “Golden Rule” (which came out originally with the title “Obtain Jah Knowledge”). He also shows up on the fairly annoying “Everybody Has To Live” – the annoyingness here is no fault of Sizzla’s, who delivers admirably, but rather the riddim which employs a really obnoxious and persistent wah-wah sound. Most of these songs are good. (“That’s Why I Love You” is really not though, and wasn’t when I first heard it in 2008.) A couple, especially the lovely “Best Thing In My Life,” are even great.
The other animal is a very early (the earliest, really) incarnation of Sizzla who burned it down on vinyl singles and later albums like the beloved “Praise Ye Jah.” The title track, “Sad Mistake” (not the song you may think it is), and “Hardcore” all hail from this era. As good of songs as they are, they sit uncomfortably next to songs that were clearly recorded many years later. More frustratingly, I’d swear – maybe not with a gun to my head, but otherwise I feel fairly sure – that some of these songs are not mastered at the correct pitch here. On “Hardcore” especially, Sizzla sounds suspiciously chipmunk-like, and the riddim comes off as nearly frantic, as fast as it moves along. Sizzla’s voice dropped to a huskier register over the years anyway, so when you put these old songs next to newer ones and then speed them up a little as well, the juxtaposition is just bizarre and frustrating. And after the first half of the album is done, these songs dry up completely – which is maybe for the best given the indifferent presentation. Only the borderline-magical “I Am No Better” (the 16th and final track) brings this vibe back to the album.
And that’s only the most glaring issues. Others include the choice of a lead-off track, “Protect My Life” (third Sizzla song by that name) which has a falsetto chorus that even drove me around the bend, and I have a high tolerance for that. “That’s Why I Love You” has an audio glitch around the 3:13 mark on the word “riches,” which was present in the earlier single as well and apparently never fixed. Who was in charge of the final master on this, and did they even listen through it to make sure it was ready to press? “All Da Time” has a weird hip hop vibe that is out of place even in this shaggydog set; when you’ve already got whiplash from going back and forth between two eras of Sizzla, you don’t really want something that sounds like one of the bum tracks from “Brighter Day” t-boning you in the intersection too. “Fly High Fly Low” is another familiar old single without much to recommend it – just a feather-light hip hop beat, and for some reason, a shorter mix here than the original single (which was almost a minute longer). And “I’m A Winner” is another hard left turn in an album that needs fewer of them – or more of them, I’m not quite sure which.
It remains to be seen how the third (and maybe fourth?) Sizzla album(s) this year will be. But of the two we’ve got so far, I think history will be a lot kinder to “Nuh Worry Unu Self” than “Radical,” which is fairly slapdash and would be just a complete mess if I didn’t feel so strongly inclined toward a few specific songs here. Maybe one of these days, VP will get into the vaults and give us a well-sequenced, properly-mastered collection of dusty old obscurities (of which we all know there are probably many more). Unfortunately, “Radical” isn’t it. I don’t really know WHAT it is. A fairly bad album that swallowed a really good EP whole, I think.
* Boilerplate score explanation: This being a site devoted SOLELY to Sizzla, you might guess that I’m pretty biased in his favor. Nonetheless, I intend to review his albums from time to time, and I want to judge them against one another primarily. So the basic scale is that “Black Woman & Child” gets a 10, and “Addicted” gets a 1. That’s the scale we’re working with.