These are difficult times. Few would dispute that. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on with little hope of a peaceful resolution. The American war machine (justified or unjustified) is plowing its way through Iraq. A mysterious illness is sweeping the world, traveling on jet planes, causing mass hysteria. While so much of the world seems to be going down the crapper, and when it’s hard to discern the bad guys from the good, it’s only natural to look for guidance and advice wherever it is offered.
Unlucky is he who looks to Dragonfly, Ziggy Marley’s solo debut, for guidance.
And it’s not that advice isn’t offered. Indeed, about half of the songs either specifically or obliquely refer to the world’s ills. A couple of song titles — “Shalom Salaam,” and “In the Name of God” — even sound like names of nonprofit organizations. Which is fine. The problem is that Ziggy’s lyrics are so cliched that they raise neither eyebrows nor questions, only chuckles. In the title track Ziggy gamely asks an accusative insect: “I wonder how you’ll survive with the environment going down the drain?” A dog and a tree also get up in his face about why humans, like, suck.
“Shalom Salaam” tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though maybe “brushes up against” is a better way to describe it. While lamenting that “we’re dying from tanks and suicide bombs,” he sings “the only answer is to live as one.” That is an answer, though not a very good one, and it doesn’t even really rhyme. With a respected songwriter like Ziggy Marley spouting platitudes such as these, to whom should we turn to combat the dumbed-down flag waving of Toby Keith?
The passion and insistence present in so much of Ziggy’s father’s music — think “Get Up Stand Up” or “She’s Gone” — as well as on much of the music created with his siblings in the Melody Makers, is nowhere to be found on Dragonfly. While in “Good Old Days” he sings “It’s not a time for war/ It’s a time for peace,” these are just words. There’s no soul put into them.
Of course if the music were solid you wouldn’t hear a peep from me about Ziggy’s lyrics. But, as you may have guessed, the music is not solid. It is, however, quite varied, which I guess is something. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante and Flea have been brought in to lend some rock cred to the album, and the record is co-produced by Marley, Ross Hogarth and Scott Litt, who boast Incubus, Metallica and Jewel as clients. So, if you feel like it, you can marvel at Dragonfly’s breadth. The crunching retro-rocker “I Get Out” (which takes four minutes and 16 seconds to do so) rocks almost exactly like a Lenny Kravitz song, which, if you think about it, makes it two steps removed from the “classic rock” that Lenny is so fond of.
Ziggy is more successful when singing about love and relationships. The touching quasi-religiousness of “I Will Never Deny You” puts much of the rest of the album to shame, and “Looking” is the best song Paul Simon never wrote. “Don’t You Kill Love,” with its atmospheric synthesizers and organs and its children’s choir chorus, is a beautiful and hopeful end to an otherwise disappointing record.