It’s fair to say that Jah Wobble has been busy. Since starting out as the founding bass player for Public Image Ltd in 1978 he’s produced dozens of albums as a solo artist, in collaborations (with Brian Eno, Primal Scream, The Edge, Holger Czukay among hundreds more) and with his band Invaders of the Heart. His work rate and refusal to be bound by genre conventions have made him one of Britain’s most surprising and unpredictable musical talents. ReDux: Anthology 1978-2015, just released on Cherry Red Records, is a lavishly packaged 92-song, six-CD collection celebrating his unique career.
John Wardle was a college friend of two future Sex Pistols. It was Sid Vicious who gave him the nickname Jah Wobble and John Lydon who offered him the chance to play bass in his first post Pistols band, Public Image Ltd. Three PiL tracks are included on the Greatest Hits disc, their classic first single Public Image (“my first time in a studio”), Poptones and the very eerie Careering from the classic Metal Box album. The Greatest Hits disc also includes two versions of the spiritual 1991 collaboration with Sinead O’Connor Visions Of You, disco tracks Tightrope and Feel from 2011, Amor Dub, featuring Chaka Demus and Pliers and the excellent new single Merry Go Round, which harks back to Madchester era Happy Mondays.
Wobble left the Public Image Ltd in 1980 to begin a solo career and, in his own words “it’s been, commercially speaking, a long steady decline since then!” His 80s output is given a disc of its own in ReDux and the opening tracks - collaborations with Jaki Leibezeit and Holger Czukay from Can – are among the highlights of the whole collection. Disco-dub crossover How Much Are They and electro-funk number Hold Onto Your Dreams sound like templates for much of the music that would come to define that decade and show how far ahead of the mainstream Jah Wobble has been. Other highlights from the 80s disc include the folksy, Doors-like A Long, Long Way and the funky Afro-rock of Sea Side Special.
Other than PiL, Jah Wobble is probably most closely associated with world music and ReDux includes a 17-track disc dedicated to world and roots music. He has a long history of experimenting with genres and musicians from other cultures, inventively blending instruments and voices with his distinctive basslines to create songs that are simultaneously familiar and exotic. Some of the best examples included here are L1, an instrumental combining Chinese guzheng with hip hop beats and funk basslines and New Mexico Dub, which mixes Arabic and Mexican influences into a psychedelic reggae tune. ReDux comprises Wobble collaborations with musicians and vocalists from South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, always underpinned and made accessible by his prominent bass, which is integral but never showy or limelight-hogging.
ReDux also includes a disc of jazz tracks, one of ambient/spoken word material and one of newly recorded cover versions. Wobble’s inventiveness and sense of fun is displayed in each of these collections. On the jazz disc Car Ad Music 3 is a high-tempo jazz and flute jam set to a rhumba beat, while the trippy Rush Hour and Miles Davis-like Loquacious Loretta, from his 2013 album with Bill Sharpe are other highlights. The ambient/spoken word disc features lazy, trip hop style tracks like Ocean Of Hills, more raucous stuff like the Chemical Brothers sounding Gardens of Suburbia and examples of Wobble’s poetry read to music, the best of which is Sacred, an observation on spirituality (“gongs bashed/ incense burnt/prayers recited/sutras learnt”). The best tune on the covers disc is the reggae version of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Theme, which will surely find its way onto a film soundtrack soon.
Jah Wobble’s music can take you to places that you’ve never been before and bring you styles of music and combinations of sounds and instruments that you won’t hear anywhere else. If you’re open to new listening experiences, there’s a huge range here, all underpinned by Wobble’s distinctive funky basslines. There’s such a variety of genres on show in ReDux that not all the tracks will appeal to every listener – I found some of the spoken word stuff a little dull and the some of the cover versions seem a bit pointless – but there’s plenty to enjoy. But anyway, as the man himself has said "I'm not terribly concerned with whether or not people like my music. My music is a part of me. Saying you don't like my music is like saying you don't like my nose or the shape of my ear - point taken, but fuck off."
Public Image – Where it all began. Wobble’s simple bassline opens this thrilling post-punk classic and drives the whole track.
Ruinlust – The highlight of the ambient/spoken word disc. Sexy funk collaboration with Julie ‘LoneLady’ Campbell from 2011 album Psychic Life.
Hit Me – 1995 trip hop track laced with bongos and sleazy saxophone played by Pharaoh Sanders of Funkadelic.
Buddha Of Compassion – Soaring, chilled-out Buddhist dance pop from 2006.
How Much Are They? – Catchy disco dub track from 1980.
Bomba – Spanish-infused dub tune from 1991.
Reggae Parts The Sea – 2006 track featuring Indian vocals and tabla over a dub bassline.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Theme – reggae version of Ennio Morricone’s famous music.
Divine Mother – Eleven-minute ambient solo track from 1995.
Merry Go Round – The new single. Radio-friendly psychedelic dance pop.