The rebirth of the title arguably began last year with Sacred Fire, an EP produced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong that effortlessly swept Cliff back in time to the taut, economical reggae of his late 60s/early 70s purple patch. Armstrong is at the helm again for these 13 tracks, which must rank as among the most assured and apposite of the 64-year-old singer’s career.
Such is the attention to sonic atmosphere, the opening World Turned Upside Down, with its clipped rhythms, stabbing organ and social conscience lyrics, could just as easily be an outtake from The Harder They Come. The trench town vitality bubbles throughout the album, from the poverty protest of Children’s Bread to the optimism of Ship Is Sailing, while a cover of Guns Of Brixton more clearly defines the warnings of The Clash’s original, presenting itself as a rallying cry for more recent uprisings in the Middle East.
It’s hard to pick a highlight from such an exemplary collection of songs, but there’s a fiery thrust to Cliff’s own take on a Rancid song, Ruby Soho, where the feet-flying thrills of vintage ska are set to a more recognisably global lyrical sensibility. Cliff has been a major influence on every reggae act that followed in his wake, but Rebirth suggests they’re still merely skanking in his shadow.