|Steel Pulse - True Democracy|
|Music Disc Reviews Audio CD|
|Written by Stephen K. Peeples|
|Tuesday, 07 June 2005|
In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, reggae experts and deejays Roger Steffens and Hank Holmes hosted The Reggae Beat radio show weekly on KCRW-FM in Santa Monica. In the pre-internet era, locals taped the shows and sent copies around the world. Steffens and Holmes were hardcore reggae purists who played nothing but Jamaican and Caribbean artists. I remember Steffens’ sole exception was Steel Pulse, from the tough Handsworth district of Birmingham, England.
Mainly because I heard the band on Reggae Beat, I went to see them sometime in ’81, playing Pauley Pavillion at UCLA to a house of the already converted. With prodigious dreads pointed to the sky, bandleader and primary songwriter David Hinds and his mates were visually exciting. Their melodies, rhythmic grooves and musicianship were stunning. Hinds’ pointed lyric messages of personal, political and spiritual freedom in the face of oppression and deprivation were ultimately uplifting and hopeful. The audience, mostly white college-age kids, was baked and knew little about Rastafarian history and politics, but they remembered all the words to Steel Pulse’s songs. I left converted.
In early ’82, as Elektra/Asylum’s editorial director, I got word that E/A had signed Steel Pulse, and a new album, True Democracy, would be shipped in May. My advance cassette remained in the player for months. As usual in those days, the tape – struck from the master onto a high-quality Maxell – sounded better than the released vinyl.
True Democracy was the first Steel Pulse album recorded on a 16-track machine. The production by Karl Pitterson (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer) sounded brilliant, crystal clear, artfully mixed, especially as heard through Sennheiser phones. This remastered version sounded just as brilliant over the six-speaker system in the brand-new Chrysler 300 Touring roadster I recently took on a road trip.
True Democracy had cohesiveness as an album, yet nearly every track was
worthy of airplay beyond niche shows. The promotion people at E/A knew this but didn’t know how to sell it. But they were smart enough to hire Roger Steffens.
It was Steffens’ first record company promo job. He got the label to create special 12” mixes for radio and club play, which are released for the first time legitimately on this reissue. Steffens also got the band to visit the E/A offices so staffers could meet them and get excited about the album. After making the rounds, David, Steve, Selwyn and the rest of the guys took over the second floor outside balcony and burned spliff after spliff until it was time to go to the night’s gig (okay…I inhaled).
When it was all over, the album – the band’s fourth and first major-label release in the States – had made the U.S. pop and R&B album charts and scored gold.
Two years later, when I was operating my own editorial business, the band was ready to release Earth Crisis and asked me to prepare the press kit. Once again, the advance cassette sounded better than the vinyl. Jimmy Haynes produced, and the sound was polished, in some cases a little too much.
Hinds’ material this time was less consistent, with trivial airplay-minded tracks like “Roller Skates” sharing space with the urgent title track. But as Hinds told me at the time, he wanted to lighten up a bit. Fair enough.
Earth Crisis was the second Steel Pulse album to score gold in the States, boosted by 12” single and dub versions of “Steppin’ Out” and “Roller Skates” (also released here for the first time) and relentless touring.
These reissues coincide with Steel Pulse’s 30th anniversary, and Hinds and a nearly new lineup have been touring America to support it. I caught a recent live show at the Ventura Theater, and the band can still bring it. And a new generation of semi-baked college-age white kids knew all the words.
The remastered True Democracy rings clear as a bell, with a warmth usually associated with vinyl. Earth Crisis’ remastering brings out the album’s polish with digital clarity.