A statement that proves Jamaica's brightest hope has come of age.
Angus Taylor 2009
Tarrus Riley's first album Challenges showcased a precocious new talent. His second, Parables, is regarded as a modern classic by reggae fans. Now he has unveiled his third record: an ambitious, brazenly commercial, genre–transcending statement that proves Jamaica's brightest hope has come of age.
Once again the project is a partnership between Riley and his 'big brother' Dean Fraser. But this time Riley rides rhythms from a variety of producers including the UK's Chris Peckings, France's Frenchie, and JA's Tarik Johnston and Shane Brown.
Despite this spread of expertise and a whopping 18 tracks Contagious doesn't fall into the reggae album trap of feeling like a singles compilation. Every song is beautifully crafted and the running order is painstakingly arranged.
Standouts include the emotive I-Sight (where the bespectacled Tarrus explains that his Rastafarian faith gives him all the vision he needs), and the timeless sounding infidelity ballad S-Craving which claims, ''the smartest people do some foolish things''.
The happy-go-lucky prance of Why So Much Wickedness is a beguiling foil for its downbeat sufferation lyric. Then there's Good Girl Gone Bad, a thumping dancehall track, with a narrative reminiscent of Bob Marley's Pimper's Paradise, telling of a young girl's innocence lost.
Some of the more overblown and sentimental arrangements (like the soft rock inflected Don't Judge and opportune Michael Jackson cover Human Nature) may be too much for listeners who prefer their roots reggae tough and coarse. But even so, the quality of the writing and vocals are never in doubt.
Tarrus Riley is the son of the singer Jimmy Riley. Raised and encouraged by his mother he began as a dancehall deejay before becoming a singer himself and Fraser’s protégé. His breakthrough album Parables was released to little fanfare before blowing up thanks to the lovers hit She's Royal.
Contagious is a work that resists categorisation, paying respects to reggae greats like Bob Marley and Black Uhuru while worshipping at the altar of the smoothest soul and the cheesiest 80s pop. And if your taste defies these boundaries, it's as good a record as any you’ll hear this year.