The Judgement: Balancing dub wizardry, sage wisdom and grey-haired eccentricity is a job the Lee "Scratch" Perry does better than most. Of course most aren't in his position-- recording their fifty-second solo album at the ripe old age of 74. Surfacing again with his latest full-length, Revelation (released Aug. 10 on Megawave Records), Jamaica's legendary Upsetter christens echo-drenched beats and faith-based rhetoric with the fervor of a hallucinating holy roller. As expected Scratch employs a tangle of tried and true ingredients: galactic laser zaps, hot and sticky reggae beats, a dash of George Clinton and a scraggly helping of Keith Richards. It sounds random, but for the average Perry fan, this formula is right in the man's wheelhouse.
From the outset, everything from the CD cover to track titles like "Psalm," "Holy Angels" and Eye for an Eye" suggest that Perry's proclivities for drugs and alcohol have been replaced by incense and scripture. By the way, they actually have been. But don't be fooled. Perry's religious overtones are spliced with songs about hard life experiences, vice and psychedelic phantoms. His voice creeks and bends like and old wooden floor (or a 74 year-old man) as he repeats cryptic lyrics that go from hopeful to haunting on songs like "Let There Be Light" and "Money Come Money Go." Much of the album delves into ancient biblical imagery that acts as the album's unifying solvent over taut snare snaps, fuzzy bass lines, searing synth chords and stoned eigth notes.
Aside from relying on sounds constructed during his stint with past groups like the Upsetters, Perry also enlists the help of legendary confidants George Clinton and Keith Richards, both featured on the album. On "Scary Politicians," Clinton lends some gravelly babbling to Perry's song dedicated to the hopelessly corrupt ruling class. Richards--a long time champion of Perry's music--lends some understated rhythm guitar licks to one of the album's quirky hypnotic tracks "Book of Moses."
Though the album is big on religious revelations, it's good to see that reverence is still not Perry's strong suit. Otherwise, "Freaky Michael"-- a randomly comic jab about Michael Jackson's life long obsession with erasing his blackness-- might not have made it on the track listing. Making fun of the deceased King of Pop is a daring move, even for a respected maverick like Perry whose knack for shock value has historically been his prime commodity. It also reminds us that even though he may not have too many marbles left upstairs, Perry still has--and will always have--balls.
The Grade: A-