The latest of several Bob Marley remix albums provokes the initial knee-jerk reaction that greets all most post-mortem alterations of sacrosanct artifacts, namely: “Blasphemy!” The same was said of the 1984 issue of Legend, which included five relatively subtle remixes that were replaced on all pressings from 1986 and thereafter (but ultimately revived on the bonus disc of the 2002 deluxe edition). Then as now, Legend remains the ultimate gateway drug to Marley’s work, one that at approximately 25 million global sales, is by far the planet’s most popular reggae album. It is sturdy enough to sustain the tinkering.
Legend: Remixed takes that classic status and stirs it up with drastically different remixes that downplay reggae in favor of largely bombastic hip-hop and EDM beats. The generally far-more-aggressive results aren’t always spiritual or spliff-friendly: The inevitable dubstep track, Stephen Marley’s interpretation of “Easy Skanking,” features a counter-intuitively uneasy bass rattle that suggests Skrillex. Stephen pulls many of the same tricks, with greater success, on his dad’s “Buffalo Soldier,” which itself is about dislocation and therefore suits the disjunctive new arrangement.
But although nothing here betters the originals, some tracks offer revelatory new elements. Roni Size’s drum ‘n’ bass rendition of “I Shot the Sheriff” messes with the tempo, initially slowing it down slightly, and then doubling it, as if the song’s protagonist were literally running from the law. It’s an irie move, and yet Size preserves plenty of the Wailers’ original riffs. Thievery Corporation achieve a similar balance in their dubbed-out interpretation of “Get Up, Stand Up,” which like roots reggae itself, mixes tranquil parts (womblike bass, gurgling sound effects) with enervating qualities (the punchy snare, Marley’s righteous vocal).
The rest isn’t always this savvy, but many cuts, like Jim James of My Morning Jacket’s oddly hypnotic twist on “Waiting in Vain,” get better with repeated plays. Legend: Remixed may not ultimately age well, but for Summer 2013, it’s an audacious party record.