While Bob Marley’s catalogue is full of songs that are worthy of a best of compilation, Legend offers what I would consider to be the very best of his work.
While this review will focus on the 30th Anniversary Limited Edition tri-coloured vinyl, I’m also personally interested in obtaining the Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) release. The 30th Anniversary Blu-ray edition consists of the CD and of course the Pure Audio Blu-ray disc that is encoded in Stereo 2.0 LPCM 24bit/96kHz, along with Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD MA 5.1 24bit/96kHz formats. As a DTS HD Master Audio fan I’d love to pump this edition through my system, although the vinyl edition does provide more than enough depth and musicality to please me.
The Blu-ray 30th Anniversary edition is also presented in a lovely hard cover book-style that includes a 28-page booklet containing liner notes, unseen photographs, and forwards by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. I personally love these book-styled releases as I feel they add value to a format that is stuck somewhere between nostalgia and non-importance as the world marches to the streaming beat.
It is essential to note that there was a HFPA single disc edition released prior to this before mentioned 30th Anniversary Blu-ray set. That earlier edition only offered a Stereo 2.0 LPCM 24bit/96kHz mix and was largely criticised amongst the audiophile community. Basically that release had an average dynamic range of 10 out of 20, whereas the later release had a much more respectable 16 out of 20. The vinyl edition, that this review is based on, also has a 16 out of 20 dynamic range. Hence, it is best to avoid the single disc HFPA edition as mastering and dynamic range are more important than raw bit rates. It is arguably missteps like this that cause doubt in consumers mind, regarding the validity of high-definition audio formats. For those of you that are interested, the 30th Anniversary standalone CD also has a reduced dynamic range from 16 to 12. Seriously, CD is capable of a 16 and I see no reason why the CD is mastered to a lower standard.
I truly wish record labels would make one ultimate master and never touch it again!
Yes, I know they would fail to make money if they didn’t re-issue the back catalogue, but the public perception, thanks to marketing, is that remastering must logically be better; even the name remaster brings about connotations that the original master wasn’t sufficient. I can assure you that isn’t always the case. However, if done properly a remaster can be exceptional. Truth be told, I love reissues, but please don’t mess with my sound unless it is truly beneficial. By all means, re-issue an album with a new booklet containing additional information and photographs. Essentially add value so that I have something tactile to look at and hold while listening; hence why I am interested in the book-styled edition of Legend.
Sadly, this poorly mastered initial HFPA release wasn’t the only disappointment on the Pure Audio Blu-ray format. One day I will review Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black (HFPA) release and you will see further evidence regarding the shortcuts taken to launch a new format quickly. I’d like to say that is the only other one Universal Music made errors on, but I simply can’t lie. The truth is the HFPA format is excellent when done properly, but the same can be said for vinyl, CD, and frankly any other format you can think of.
Nevertheless, we are here to discuss one of the most beautiful vinyl records I have in my collection. The tri-colour, as you can see in the photographs, is simply exquisite. It is reminiscent of not only Bob Marley, but the reggae sound and associated culture. I was honestly blown away when I first saw the records as a number of other multi-coloured releases I have are questionable, regarding the colours and the way the colour has been mixed. To get it so accurate, there has to be some magic sauce in the mix. YouTube is full of videos that detail how records are pressed and when I watch those videos, I’m honestly amazed this turned out so well. It is so accurate that it reminds me of the way picture discs are created, yet I don’t believe this process was used as coloured vinyl vs picture disc vinyl have quite a different appearance and the noise floor is also a key noticeable difference. With that in mind, this pressing is basically silent, with only a little surface noise noticeable between tracks. It is really no worse than a solid colour or black pressing and the sound presentation is amongst the best in my collection. You can really turn the volume on this album up! If anyone has any information on how they pressed this record, I would love to know. I know this isn’t a new technique as the Icehouse album Man Of Colours was also released in a limited tri-colour pressing in 1987. Unfortunately, I have never been able to source a copy of that record for a reasonable price. They literally go for a few hundred in mint condition. If you’re one of the lucky few to have a copy that you no longer want, shoot me a message.
Anyway, what album was I reviewing again? Honestly, I have wanted to do this review for the longest time, but I knew that I would digress excessively.
The vinyl sleeve itself is presented as a gatefold and looks simply stunning. The forwards that are included in the before mentioned Blu-ray release, are also present within in the gatefold. Despite that, I still want the ultimate digital edition to go with the ultimate vinyl edition. It is the collector in me and I feel no need to apologise for my consumeristic behaviour.
Most pleasing is the level of detail that is included with each song on the back of the sleeve. It is concise but includes important information relating to the album it was originally released on, along with a short review. I truly believe this additional information should be included with all albums, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Let’s progress to my subjective thoughts of the songs, before I digress any further.
LP 1 / SIDE 1
Is This Love was a fantastic choice for the first track of the album as it highlights the key sound signature that we recognise as belonging to the reggae genre. It has a simple, yet complex beat, combined with vocals and an overall tonality that will get your body moving.
No Woman No Cry is a lovely song, but I’ve always disliked the lows in the song, especially within the first few chords as the keyboard introduction sounds too distorted for my liking. Of course, it is important to note that this is the live version of the song, from the London Lyceum concert – released on the Bob Marley & The Wailers Live! album. The original studio recording, found on Natty Dread, doesn’t exhibit this effect. However, the studio recording is arguably not as strong a performance as the live recording. Let’s just say that I’m glad we have both editions, but neither is 100% perfect. While both versions are not on the tri-coloured vinyl release, the studio edition does also feature on the before mentioned 30th Anniversary Blu-ray (HFPA) release. That all said, once the song gets going this initial dampener dissipates and I find myself singing along to the chorus line.
Could You Be Loved has such an addictive beat. I dare you to remain still while this song is playing. Yes, that could likely be said about all reggae music as it is a genre that encourages uninhibited movement, but I have also heard many reggae songs and artists that don’t have the resounding effect that Marley and the Wailers did. I truly believe it was Marley’s inclusion of rock and roll elements that assisted in their sound signature.
Three Little Birds shifts the style to being a little more melodic, in direct comparison to the speed of Could You Be Loved, but I love it. Three Little Birds is one of those sing-a-long style songs that has such a positive chorus. I’ve no doubt that many parents have sung the chorus to their children over the years.
LP 1 / SIDE 2
Buffalo Soldier is my son’s favourite song. He has the standard CD edition and despite only being 9, he can belt out a fairly good rendition. Although, some of the lyrics are a little different to those that Marley and Williams penned. Buffalo Soldier certainly follows on well from the pace of Three Little Birds. While this is a compilation album, I find that the song selection and track positions are perfect. There is never a sonic jolt to dampen this collection of incredible songs. It is as if all the songs were composed at the same time. I mention this because many compilations do not present such a smooth transition from track to track.
Get Up Stand Up is certainly motivation from a societal perspective, but I find that I’m conflicted with regards to the speed of the song. Subjectively, I would like the tempo to be a little faster. Seriously, I’m clutching at straws aren’t I? It is an incredible song!
Stir It Up follows a similar tempo to Get Up Stand Up, hence it tracks well. I find Stir It Up is a very simple composition, but rather evolved as each time I listen to the song I experience the different layers of musicality the song has to offer. Over the years I have appreciated Marley’s music for its flexibility, thereby allowing appreciation by both novices and the collector/audiophile community. While Stir It Up isn’t my favourite track on the album, I can’t exactly say what I dislike about the song. I guess I’m just not feeling the groove. In reflection, and somewhat fickly, I can’t help but wonder if it is a little too complex and my mind is struggling to identify a key groove.
Easy Skanking is simply awesome. The tempo is perfect and I love the backing vocals. Sometimes backing vocals can be a distraction, but occasionally they work exceptionally well. This is one case where I couldn’t imagine the song without the backing vocals.
LP 2 / SIDE 1
One Love / People Get Ready is one of those simple, yet complex and feel-good vibe songs. It is exceptional!
I Shot The Sheriff, in my opinion, is the best song in Marley’s catalogue. I really enjoy the little shift between the verse and the chorus, where the song seems to halt but we know the song is not over yet. However, unlike Easy Skanking, I’m not convinced the backing vocals are necessary. I feel they are extraneous and frankly aren’t as polished as I would like. That said, they are so irritating to me that they strangely make the song even more compelling.
Waiting In Vain is a lovely ballad, but isn’t necessarily a song that I listen to outside of the album/compilation format. That’s a shame when I think about it, as it is truly an exceptional track and one that I would say is a highlight of Marley’s career.
Redemption Song is about as acoustic as Marley gets. That isn’t a bad thing as the guitar twang and vocal delivery is simply gorgeous.
LP 2 / SIDE 2
Satisfy My Soul just doesn’t. I don’t find the song offensive, I just haven’t linked my soul with the song. I thoroughly enjoy the chorus, but I’m not a fan of the verse. The song simply feels disjointed to me.
Exodus is full of energy and the brass instruments are off the charts, while thankfully not taking over the song as they are prone to do. The beat is, as so many Marley songs are, addictive. Basically, every element of this song is perfect and I simply can’t fault it.
Jamming is a groovy song. It honestly amazes me how simple some of Marley’s songs appear to be, yet they are offer the listener so much and I never get tired of listening to them.
Punky Reggae Party concludes the compilation with a song that has elements of various other tunes that have come before it. It isn’t my favourite song as I feel the chorus is a little overworked, but this song does encourage me to listen to the album again and I feel that is what all closing tracks should aim to achieve.
To be completely honest, this review could have easily been summed up by saying Bob Marley is a legend! Seriously, I don’t think there is anything else that can be said to justify just how astonishing Marley and the Wailers truly were.
My edition of Legend, used in this review, was purchased from Goldmine Records.