Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Peter Tosh

  • Legalize It [Columbia, 1976] B
  • Equal Rights [Columbia, 1977] B+
  • Bush Doctor [Rolling Stones, 1978] B+
  • Mystic Man [Rolling Stones, 1978] C+
  • Wanted Dread or Alive [EMI America, 1981] B
  • Mama Africa [EMI America, 1983] B
  • The Toughest [Capitol, 1988] B+
  • Scrolls of the Prophet: The Best of Peter Tosh [Columbia/Legacy, 1999] A-
  • Live at the One Love Peace Concert [Koch, 2000] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Legalize It [Columbia, 1976]
Unlike most sidemen who go on to pursue their own artistic interests, ex-Wailer Tosh has managed to gather about half an album for his solo debut, which ain't bad. "Ketchy Shuby" even has the makings of a novelty hit. But oh, how his light heart and romantic spirit are missed among his old mates. B

Equal Rights [Columbia, 1977]
What's most impressive about this music is its sinew. The tracks are strong, yet although they usually include at least seven instrumental parts, they never sound lush, full, or even jubilantly multipercussive, which given Tosh's increasingly ominous lyrics is a good thing. Yet while Tosh's lyrics are more correct politically than Marley's, they're only marginally more eloquent. His singing is rather less eloquent. B+

Bush Doctor [Rolling Stones, 1978]
The musical surprises on Tosh's second album established his gift for dublike production depth in a song format. The instant memorability of the tunes here does the same for his melodic gift. Mick and Keith add a few ingratiating touches. Nice. B+

Mystic Man [Rolling Stones, 1978]
Mysticism should keep its own counsel; boast about it, translate your supposed experience of the ineffable into any but the most simpleminded ideology, and ninety-five times out of a hundred you'll sound like a smug asshole. Tosh's ever more preachy vocal stance does nothing for his dopey puns ("shitty" for "city," far out), his confused political-economic theories, or his equation of hamburgers with heroin. And his musicians sound like the bored pros rockers so often turn into. C+

Wanted Dread or Alive [EMI America, 1981]
Tosh is more worldly-wise than the average reggae singer--maybe even smarter. Darryl Thompson's guitar gets rock-style solo space on several tracks here, but not rock-style aural prominence, and nice synthesis, and in general the music's subtlety is impressive. Especially if you're impressed by musical subtlety, if you know what I mean. I'm impressed by the Gwen Guthrie duet with the session-name horns pasted on. It stinks. B

Mama Africa [EMI America, 1983]
A surprisingly good album from a man who's been acting the fool for years, but the quality's in the groove, not the man--and in the Afrogroove rather than the reggae groove at that. Best songs: "Stop That Train," which he almost ruins with lounge-roots phrasing, and "Maga Dog," which has never sounded better. Both were written in the '60s. B

The Toughest [Capitol, 1988]
Who knows what got him--some combination of ganja and the screws beating him half to death just when his music took its definitive downturn in the late '70s. Anyway, by finessing his recent past--only four tracks less than seven years old--compiler Neil Spencer camouflages the sad deterioration of one Jamaican artist whose hazy alienation always had a political edge. Sly & Robbie, great Mick Jagger cameo--it's enough to make a charitable person forgive the insufferable "Mystic Man," which is of course included. B+

Scrolls of the Prophet: The Best of Peter Tosh [Columbia/Legacy, 1999]
Tosh's prime was over long before he was murdered in 1987, probably for being the stoned, arrogant gadfly-cum-crank he turned into. By cherry-picking his 1976 and 1977 Columbia albums, culling two Rolling Stones keepers, adding three worthy oddments, and preserving EMI's 1981 "Fools Die" just in case anybody thinks I'm kidding about far downhill he slid, this showcases the Wailers' only born propagandist. You love Bob Marley, I love Bob Marley, but he didn't venture social statements as hard-hitting, verbally or musically, as "Equal Rights" or "Legalize It." Righteous militance rarely wears well. That Tosh could have done this much with it is worth writing down. A-

Live at the One Love Peace Concert [Koch, 2000]
More politics than Bob or Bunny, and here's where they got him beaten within an inch of his life ("Speech," "Legalize It/Get Up, Stand Up"). *