Horace Andy - Midnight Rocker (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Horace Andy

Midnight Rocker (2022)


Midnight Rocker is an album by a heavy dread full of heavy dread. In fact, it might be the most menacing album that Horace Andy has ever released. A big part of this is that the album is driven by the On-U soundcrew, a collective headed by the UK’s Adrian Sherwood that (in the ‘80s) combined classic reggae artists with the future sounds of post-punk.

Here, Sherwood pulls back on the sonic experimentation to a degree (though rando sound stabs pop up here and there) and gives Andy a lot of space to work with. He uses it well. Really well. First of all, Andy, now 71, still sounds fantastic. As with his classic LPs, his voice at once has a world weariness but youthful timbre. His delivery is equal parts traditional roots reggae and soul. So, when he sings lines like “Lord, this must be hell, because there’s no peace down here on earth,” it sounds like a person who has traveled the earth and seen it all. He’s not being hyperbolic or jumpy, he’s being real.

Meanwhile, the On-U gang delivers some of its tightest playing to date. Check out the credits- Crucial Tony, George Oban, Dr Pablo, Style Scott- some of the heaviest hitters from the New Age Steppers / Singers & Players days are here along with some of the Roots Radics- and they punch with hyper precise simplicity of a Junjo track. A lot of modern reggae tends to “fill up” a track with all manner of instruments (as usually supplemented by digital effects), but here, Sherwood keeps a spartan approach that gives every bit here that much more power- especially Andy’s voice.

Thake for instance the re-work of Massive Attack’s “Safe From Harm.” It is massive. As Andy says, “if you try to take what’s mine, I’ll sure as hell retaliate,” there is almost no other instrumentation. I like that Andy is more aggressive than almost anywhere else in his discography and the fact that this negativity permeates the entire album suggests something about the current state of the world.

To that end, maybe Andy himself can be a barometer to how things are. For some six decades he’s been cranking out soulful, meaningful reggae. Sometimes he’s on the lovey dovey trip, sometimes the spiritual, sometimes the political. Here, he’s reiterating messages he’s made before (“away with the gun, away with the knife!”) but now it seems more urgent and more charged up than ever. It’s ironic that now, with the world in a situation as dire as anything since the 1940s, Andy is charged and cutting one of the best records in his fifty years cutting tracks. Truly, this is one of the best reggae records of the year… and one of the best records of the year…