Rastas Babble On

Babylon The Bandit album review

Donald McRae in NME

1 March 1986

Steel Pulse were always near the core of the punk-reggae pact as they shared a late 1975 birthdate with the Pistols and played gigs with The Clash and Generation X. Their Handsworth Revolution LP eventually proved to be a far more accurate reflection of Britain's future than the more commercially ambitious and less politically serious Anarchy In The UK. Also their Ku Klux Klan mash-up of the National Front was made resilient by punk-like rage, while their Tribute To The Martyrs LP underlined their allegiance to Rasta spirituality.

This idea of Steel Pulse, as a politically sussed British reggae group with a Burning Spear type awareness of their own history, continues to make sense when you take a brief look at the cover of Babylon The Bandit. Besides the emphasis of African culture and a rejection of its subsequent enslavement, the Save Black Music, Not Kings James Version and Babylon The Bandit song titles also suggest that Steel Pulse have retained their edge. And, of course, David Hinds still sports that wonderful foot high hairstyle, which is not the type of coiffure expected on TOTP.

But it contains the first hint of Steel Pulse dullness. The worthy dedication to South Africa's revolution is made virtually redundant by the final '"Azamia coming" message. The sincerity of the message should surely have ensured the correct spelling of Azania.

The real disappointment of Babylon The Bandit is that the admirable sentiments and the more militant assertions are blunted by musical mediocrity. On the opening Save Black Music - a plea for a return to the roots of black culture as an alternative to the beige-ification process favoured by white record company execs and by DJs - Steel Pulse ironically opt for a bouncy and untimately banal tune. The robotic voice used near the end of the song is an especially absurd embrace of the hi-tech trickery used to smooth out reggae and funk's purer sounds. And in another perverse twist to the Save Black Music pledge, Kick That Habit and Don't Be Afraid sound like the type of fake reggae songs written by, respectively, Sting and UB40. The Love Walks Out single is mild enough to enjoy extensive Radio One airplay while the abysmal School Boys Crush and Sugar Daddy hardly deserve a mention.

But, in the deepest irony of all, the "Babylon the bandit, dash him in a bottomless pit...Babylon, time has caught up on you, Babylon Rasta prophecy true" conclusion is made meaningless by Steel Pulse's reliance on DMX/Emulator/fairlight gadgetry and by their apparent admiration for a very Babylonian rock guitar sound. Steel Pulse have lost their way and their decline means that the only remaining British reggae group of importance is the consistently great Misty In Roots.

Text copyright NME 1986, used without permission.

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