Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“Is This Love” / Bob Marley & the Wailers


Time for a palate cleanser, courtesy of that founding father of reggae, Bob Marley. By the time this came out, on the Wailers' 1978 album Kaya, reggae had gone a bit mainstream, and there's no question that this love song is as smooth as toffee. As it lopes along at a rocksteady pace, it makes love seem like the most untroubled, simple thing in the world. But then, maybe it should be -- maybe it is.

"I wanna love you / And treat you right," Marley announces in the very first line -- now there's a novel idea. "I wanna love you / Every day and every night," he reiterates, just in case you were wondering. The melodic pattern is dead simple, a hopeful upward phrase followed by a circling line that practically snuggles up into a cozy resting place. This guy has no ulterior motives, no crippling doubts, and the loose-limbed groove of that relaxed beat beckons you in -- hey! the water's fine!

I love how he puts love right up there with food and shelter as one of the necessities of life: "We'll be together / With a roof right over our heads; / We'll share the shelter / Of my single bed." (There's an inexplicably sexy line, isn't it, girls?). "We'll share the same room / For Jah provides the bread." Now we all know that Jah doesn't always provide the bread, but I'm swept away by his faith in things working out. Even if they're living in one cramped room and spooning together on a narrow cot, they'll be happy, and that's what counts.

That's just about it for lyrics -- except for the next verse's memorable "I-eeh-I-eeh-I-eeh-I-eeh-I /I'm willing and able, / So I throw my cards on your table." Mmmm, I do love a confident man. Not that the relationship's a done deal, not yet; the chorus consists of Marley singing over and over, in pulsing surges of melody, "Is this love - is this love - is this love - / Is this love that I'm feelin'?" and "I wanna know." But I don't get that he's anxious or uncertain about it -- it's more like he's observing his own momentous emotion with wonderment and awe. He's on the threshold of something BIG, the thing that will make his whole life click into place, and who can blame him for marveling at it? You can surf along on that steady rhythm base (or riddim, as they say in Jamaica), but his excitement keep bursting out in those spangly little blurts on the organ, the taps of cowbell, and the wind-soughs from the backing vocals.

It's mysterious, really, how a song like this works. Part of it is just the warm texture of Marley's vocals, plus his incredibly deft phrasing, playing against the beat and then playing against his against-the-beat beat -- it's the soul of reggae, that off-beat shift and thrust. There's just enough production to sound lush, and not too much to overwhelm our sense of these very real lovers (in that delicious single bed). However they pull it off, all I know is that I want to sink into this song, and wrap it around me.

Is this love? You betcha.

Is This Love sample

1 comment:

wwolfe said...

I've heard this song many times, but reading this I was struck for the first time by "I throw my cards on your table." That's not really a sexual metaphor - or at least not one I can explain - but somehow Marley's choice of the word "your," rather than the expected "the," to define the table in question manages to make this a wonderfully sexy line. (Getting caught up with your blog after a week and a half away on vacation.)