By Daniel Garrett
Throw Down Your Arms
Producers: Sly and Robbie
at Tuff Gong Studios, Jamaica
Company: That’s Why There’s Chocolate and Vanilla, 2005
Sinead O’Connor’s Throw Down Your Arms is a recording of songs with spiritual and social themes, a recording of reggae songs. Sinead O’Connor’s singing of these songs is invested with affirmation, warning, testimony, flirtation, and sighs, as if expressing different parts of her being and consciousness. The musicians working with her, some of whom played on the original recordings of these songs, are excellent; and I think that the exceptional songs and performances on the album Throw Down Your Arms are: “Marcus Garvey,” written by Phillip Fulwood and Winston Rodney; “Curly Locks,” written by Lee Perry; “Downpressor Man,” written by Peter Tosh; “Throw Down Your Arms,” written by Fulwood and Rodney; and “War,” written by Colin Eric Allen and Carleton Barrett. Throw Down Your Arms is a respectful and sincere tribute, and a lovely piece of music, but except for the respect—cross-cultural, intergenerational, beyond gender—it represents, it is not radical or transformative. Such a comment may be suggesting an impossible standard. It might be simpler if I just said that I like the album very much: without having any inclination to affirm the recording’s view of god-centered spirituality or nationalistic politics, I enjoy the album’s singing and music very much.
In the song “Jah Nuh Dead,” the lyrics repeat that the universal deity remains alive, and in “Marcus Garvey,” that Garvey is still a relevant prophet, and the lyric in “Door Peep” advises the listener to “chant down Babylon,” which may not be possible. Can a song or a poem change the world? Can the truth in a song or a poem change the world? The songs “He Prayed,” “Y Mas Gan,” “Vampire,” “Prophet Has Arise,” and “Untold Stories” are included on the album Throw Down Your Arms. “Curly Locks,” about a personal association despite parental disapproval, is sensual, light, affectionate, pretty, and girlish. “Downpressor Man” is a searing rebuttal to a corrupt ruler, a criminal, saying that even nature will work against him: “if you run to the sea, the sea will be boiling.” O’Connor’s voice is forceful: accusation becomes her, as does denunciation. There are not many singers who can move easily between the girlish and the prophetic.
About the reviewer: Daniel Garrett has written about music for AllAboutJazz.com, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Option, and PopMatters.com, including commentary on Sade, the Afghan Whigs, Tupac Shakur, Kitchens of Distinction, Matthew Sweet, and Annie Lennox; and his commentaries on Lizz Wright, Leela James, Skye, Morrissey, Sinead O’Connor, B.B. King, Frank Sinatra, and Al Green have appeared on the web pages of The Compulsive Reader. Daniel Garrett has written also about art, books, business, film, and politics, and his work has appeared inThe African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Offscreen, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today.