Three expatriate Caribbeans plus two Englishmen equalled the Equals, whose blend of pop-rock, psychedelia, blues, R&B and, of course, a slight Carib accent yielded a wildly diverse and uneven batch of singles and albums in the late ’60s. Despite their problems, they amassed a few Top 10 hits, including the oft-revived (most recently by Grant himself) “Baby Come Back,” a smash on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968. Several of their other hits now sound like utter tripe, but “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” and the LP track “Police on My Back” (covered by the Clash) show just how talented they could be.
The group provided a musical (and music-business) education for its Guyana-born guitarist/chief songwriter/leader (but not lead singer) Eddy Grant, who eventually left to go solo and set up his own record company, Ice. He plays almost everything on his studio albums, except sometimes bass and/or drums, plus horns (when he doesn’t use synthesizer instead).
Message Man was a dodgy start, yet Grant immediately began forging his own reggae style (“Jamaican Child”) and continued the interracial/cultural theme begun with the Equals (“Cockney Black”).
Walking on Sunshine shows his potential in full flower: “Living on the Frontline” is a superb electronic-reggae single, and its remarkable extension into “The Frontline Symphony” on the LP is a lengthy tour de force that features a mock-classical vocal section. The title track and “Say I Love You” (a monster hit in Nigeria) add extra value to an LP already well worth owning.
Love in Exile showcases Grant working in various soul styles (like the Teddy Pendergrass-ish semi-funk of the title track), albeit with his own oddly inflected vocals. “Preaching Genocide” is the one exception, a long mutant calypsoid political chant, but all in all it’s only musical water-treading, and inferior. My Turn to Love You is the same record with an alternate title and graphics.
The live album is an excellent display of both Grant’s talent as a performer and his best solo songs up to that point. It also makes available about half the otherwise rare songs from Message Man. Despite the usual live record drawbacks — it needn’t have been a double — its best is mighty good.
Can’t Get Enough is Grant’s “I’m a love man” album, but it’s great for what it is, as the catchy numbers take full advantage of Grant’s genre-bending and blending. (The reissue adds a nifty instrumental, “Time Warp,” that was originally available as the B-side of “Electric Avenue.”)
The rock-oriented Killer on the Rampage is Grant’s most consistent album to date, as well as his biggest commercial success in the US. “Electric Avenue” (the most rock-based track, save for some muscular guitar playing here and there) may prove to be an anthem of classic stature, and cuts like the title track and “I Don’t Wanna Dance” demonstrate how Grant’s songwriting has matured.
Proof that Killer was no fluke: although none of Grant’s subsequent albums have high points quite as great as “Electric Avenue,” all are quite enjoyable and nearly as varied. Going for Broke includes the theme song of the Romancing the Stone (only a smidge of which made the film’s final cut), the wry Afro-Carib “Political Bassa-Bassa” and some strong rockish tracks. Born Tuff has a more varied, less rockified approach and a super title tune that’s something of a more confident companion to “Living on the Front Line.” If the album — on which Grant performs nearly every note — doesn’t begin all that strongly, it does gather steam.
Grant also plays virtually all of File Under Rock and Barefoot Soldier, both of which maintain the quality level. The former isn’t that much rockier than Going for Broke, but it does include a tribute to Chuck Berry and a decent remake of “Baby Come Back” (the original still rules, though). Barefoot Soldier is stylistically quite varied: Carib-beat, reggae, folk, country-rock (yup) and a bracing protest rocker, “Restless World.” Social consciousness is prominent on the LP, which (at least in the US) includes his infectious anti-apartheid tune, “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna,” an early-’88 UK hit. If some of the lyrics are obscure or dopey, Grant compensates with his usual charm, sincerity and catchy musical settings.
Harmless Piece of Fun contains “Electric Avenue,” “Born Tuff,” two swell tracks from File Under Rock plus a couple of new items. Walking on Sunshine is a pretty good best-of, except that it ignores “Born Tuff.”