Music » Critics' Picks

Culture featuring Joseph Hill

Tuesday, July 8; Pop's


Joseph Hill and his vocal group Culture are the reggae equivalent of writer Joseph Heller, of Catch 22 fame. Not only are their names -- and the titles of their masterpieces -- similar (sorta, anyway), but they're also artists whose first work eclipsed the rest of their prodigious output. Culture's Two Sevens Clash, which celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its release last year, is the group's glory and its albatross; Culture has released 29 other albums since then, but most fans (and nearly all hipster rock critics, including, ahem, this one) know them only for that first one, produced by Joe Gibbs in Kingston. One could go on and on praising Two Sevens, but you can read the same blather in any of the hundreds of online reviews.

More useful, perhaps, is to put the album's release in a context that the white rockers who read this paper will appreciate: Two Sevens Clash is partly responsible for the Clash's foray into dub and reggae, for seminal female punk trio the Slits' glorious Cut, for Public Image Limited's dub-infused Metal Box and the overall intermingling of reggae and rock that spawned British post-punk, a sound so in vogue among hipsters right now. The record was a big hit in England at the time, and it shared with post-punk an anger, an existential loneliness, the frustration of being beaten down and the glorious realization that being in such a state could be harnessed to create tense, angry music. Where Jamaican kindred vocal groups the Itals and Burning Spear were using their fluttering, heavenly harmonies to address repression, Culture had a noticeable edge that struck a nerve with the punks and has continued to inspire since its release. Unfortunately, Hill's anger has, over the years, morphed into self-righteousness, which is fine, but his recent work, including the new World Peace, with its cloying cover photo of Hill standing next to a group of children, isn't going to set the rockers on fire. For that, hit Two Sevens, and discover the power of the dirty/pretty Jamaican stuff.

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