Jamaican disc jockey Michael Campbell changed his name, moved to England and made it as a recording artist. Dread at the Controls (the name of his radio show and, later, record label) is a modest debut, but World War III is an out-and-out sonic adventure. Mixed up (and down) by Scientist, the LP features Dread’s dancehall-style toasting, beefed up with ultra-heavy production and sonic effects. The album tied into punk rockers’ enthusiastic acceptance of both reggae’s outlook and its techniques; Dread was thus considered a new wave reggae artist, a link he affirmed when he recorded (on Sandinista! and singles) and toured with the Clash. (Beyond World War III is a slightly revised American edition.)
Unfortunately, none of his later releases are as impressive as WWIII. S.W.A.L.K. is a halfhearted imitation filled with unconvincing lovers rock made worse by Dread’s nasal singing. Pave the Way (Parts 1 & 2) is just as inconsistent. Although it offers stylistic variety, Dread’s capable production and Paul Simonon on background vocals, the LP’s best tracks are chant-down cuts like “Roots and Culture,” the theme of a UK children’s show. The two-LP British version is impressive at least for its ambition; the prior American single record seems spare in comparison.
African Anthem is Mikey Dread at his best, tripping out with sound and dub, visiting hemispheres no one else has ever been. Digging into his library of tapes from his years as a JBC DJ, he includes his zany station IDs, drop-ins and samplings amid the already wild-style dubtronics. Evolutionary Rockers (a reissue of Dread’s first LP) also features superstar remix engineers King Tubby and Prince Jammy; while it has a surreal feel, it isn’t as dubby. More than anything else, these two albums define Dread at the Controls, an originator of sheer genius.
On the other hand, Happy Family suggests that his strength may lie behind the scenes, not behind the mic. While his message and lyrics are still strong, Dread’s singing is oftimes mediocre.