Sort of like a Republican, I may not have any actual mandate to christen my opinions as the official voice of Jewlicious, but seeing as I am to my knowledge the only sometime reggae musician on the Jewlicious blogstaff, which is a position I zealously guard, you can be assured that the following review is informed by my love and passion for music, reggae in particular, and the fact that I have never been captured on Jewlicious public record with my tongue firmly lodged in Matisyahu’s golden, pre-ripped-Shabbat-toilet paper-using ass. Which is not to say that I haven’t been a big fan of His Beardness in the past, but, on the other hand (and it pains me to say this), when I was twelve, I owned Big Willie Style.
I’m going to try to avoid commentary on Matisyahu’s recent betrayal of his friends and supporters at JDub in favor of Yet Another Soul-Sucking Money-Grubbing Hack Hollywood
Jew Producer, and certainly I won’t mention that Youth has been totally fucking reamed by countless media outlets. No, this is the Official Jewlicious Review, and it’s between me, this bottle of mishloach manot Purim table wine, and Snow Matis.
So. Youth. It’s a recurring theme in reggae. Young Generation Dub. Youth of Eglington. Children Crying. Rescue Jah Children. Uptown Babies Don’t Cry. I would go on, but you get the idea. And now Matisyahu’s latest offering. How is it? Uh, well, to quote Peter Tosh, you can’t blame the youth, but itâ€¦sucks. Hard. It seems producer Bill Laswell heard some of Shake Off the Dust, said, â€œWe can’t have that shit,â€ then proceeded to lock Matisyahu in a dark room and administer a heavy combination treatment of Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey, a puddle of water and powerful electrical shocks to make sure Matis would acquire a Pavlovian fear of the sort of spiritually powerful, earthy reggae music that made him worth listening to in the first place. Three days of Clockwork Orange-esque forced watching of Olivia Newton-John videos later, Matisyahu came out a changed man. â€œSure, Bill,â€ the new Matis said, â€œoverproduce my songs. Bury the riddim in synth bells and whistles. Encourage my guitar player to continue to jizz all over the place with incongruous jam band shit guitar solos. Disguise my increasingly-strained-sounding voice in the kinds of vocal effects that conjure to mind twenty years of indistinguishable European house. Give me arrangements that sound less like roots reggae and more like the Backstreet Boys getting stupid drunk and trying to get roots reggae’s phone number in a club they’re not cool enough for. And then, in case anyone thinks I’m losing my edge, we’ll throw in some acoustic shit, because everyone knows that if it’s acoustic, it’s like totally authentic, like â€˜Redemption Song,’ man. Then maybe I can go on tour with Dave Matthews! Sweet, dude! Pass me that spliffâ€”oh, wait, I’m against that shit now, I forgot. I even record songs about it!â€
And as if that laundry list of sins wasn’t enough, Youth contains one of those regrettable and ubiquitous celebrity excesses, the saccharine-song-devoted-to-the-singer’s-wife-or-child, in this case the unfortunately-titled â€œUnique is My Dove.â€ I mean, sure, musicians’ feelings toward their significant others are totally legitimate, and chicks totally flip their shit when their man writes a song about how great they are, complete with prose backwards that is, but that’s no reason for making us hear it. (This is not to say, of course, that I am totally against songs about wives, because Marvin Gaye’s â€œWhen Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving Youâ€ is a brilliant classic for the ages, but unique is Marvin Gaye’s talent and away with things he can get.)
But seriously. Songs like â€œJerusalemâ€ pay the curtest of nods to reggae while furiously making out with the sort of bland, inoffensive, top-40 aimed production techniques that characterize uber-poppy ska’n’reggae-lite outfits like, oh, No Doubt. You know, shit, for what it’s worth, No Doubt’s â€œUnderneath It Allâ€ was a better reggae song than anything on Youth, and I don’t even like No Doubt. It’s not like there’s anything per se wrong with bland pop with a Jamaican flair, but we know Matisyahu is capable of more. Sophomore slump or not, there’s no excuse for the lame pop beats, overdone â€œoy yo yo yo yoâ€ intros, and transparent passes at the Dave Matthews Band stoner pseudo-sophisticate crowd that characterize much of Youth. Unless something major changes, I feel Matisyahu’s music fate is a done deal: he’s already proven himself more than willing to churn out pop that aims straight for the stoned heart of America’s seventeen year olds, and now that he’s been picked up by Gary Gersh, his next album is going to suffer from â€œSupernaturalâ€ syndrome, wherein a formerly passionate and talented artist is squeezed into the straitjacket of Top 40 songwriters, needless overproduction and obnoxious guest appearances. Just imagine the phone call: â€œMatis? Gary. Listen, I know you like those kids in your band, but trust me, I’ve got some crack studio guys who can wipe the floor with them, so they’re out. It’s for your own good. Anyway, come on down to the studio, we’ve got the Matrix hereâ€¦you know, those guys who write songs for Avril Lavigneâ€¦and Wyclef and Gwen Stefani are both in for their guest spots. It’s gonna be the hot shit, baby.â€
I only hope I’m wrong.
So what to do, now that the great white hope of Jewish music has popped out? Well, I can’t resist plugging my man Y-Love, who Mobius at Jewschool has already written plenty about. I chilled with him when he was in J-town, and was privileged to hear him freestyle and work out his track â€œHebrew Childâ€ with Shmash, another great Jerusalem MC. I have seen the future of quality Jewish music, and it wipes the floor with Youth one dense, conscious English/Yiddish/Aramaic/Arabic/Hebrew verse at a time. That’s a real Chasid. Just please man, for God’s sake, stay indie.