In 1985 Island Records released Sly and Robbie’s first foray to be recorded with Reggae placed as an influence and not the major component within the recording by bringing a digitalised funk and Hip Hop sound to the recordings fore front. Looking back today when one listens closely to “Language Barrier” you realise just how far in front of the pack they were running. Afrika Bambaata, had only been known for three years with a complete new genre of music still in its infancy being Rap and Hip Hop which was still facing more criticism than appreciation except within the younger music community and not content with just Afrika Bambaata the imitable Doug E. Fresh with his own sounds being the human beat box even took things to another original level. As well, we had another fairly new artist making quite a name on the scene for himself being the Producer and bassist Bill Laswell who was currently with his band Material back in 1985 bringing already a diverse original anything goes approach with his take on creating modern music. Wally Badarou is also present on synthesizer, Herbie Hancock, Robbie Lyn and Bernie Worrell are also included supplying keyboards and piano. Manu Dibango on sax, Daniel Ponce, congas, Bernard Fowler, backing vocals and vocals, Eddie Martinez, Pat Thrall, Mike Hampton, Mikey Chung and Barry Reynolds all supplied guitar at various stages from Funk, Jazz and Rock and talking about Rock, Bob Dylan even provides harmonica in the album.
During this period Sly and Robbie had not long finished recording Mick Jagger’s solo debut, “She’s The Boss” with Bill Laswell where many of these musicians came into contact. Some of the others had already been playing in the Compass Band which was Island Records studio band for many of their productions during this period with most of the band members originating from Jamacia and a Reggae background. Bob Dylan had not long before had Sly and Robbie provide support for his latest release “Empire Burlesque” with the most memorable song of the album recorded being Bob’s second shot at “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” containing Sly’s electric drum kit and Robbie’s beautiful bass line. In addition to all this consorting Bill Laswell with a few of the artists mentioned above had just recorded Manu Dibango’s ,“Electric Africa” bringing Manu along to lend his superb saxophone with that gorgeous tone on various album tracks, found within “Language Barrier”.
Sly’s electronic drums open up with the Funk coming in quick, Manu Dibango’s sax is darting in and out, Wally’s synthesizer is whirling around and Afrika Bambaata are chanting “make em’ move, make em’ move” with additional verse lyrics and with three cracking guitar solos inserted with of course Robbie’s bass lines and the first number “Make Em’ Move” gets the album underway. “No Name On The Bullet” which follows is one rhythm worked over beautifully with Hip Hop added over a dub and an another album highlight which is followed by the Miles Davis composition “Black Satin” aptly named “Miles” within the album’s track listings with more fabulous rhythm employed as the bed rock , two fabulous drum leads from Sly, more Synthesizer and guitar, a keyboard loop that just keeps repeating and one quite distinct take was created. “Bass And Trouble” is the first on the flip with Manu Dibango providing quite a nice solo and input over more electronics used for the rhythm with Doug E. Fresh doing his sound effects, Wally’s synthesizer is back, Mike Hampton is putting in the Funk guitar and Sly and Robbie are once again a stunning back bone to it all. The rhythm just keeps pounding along for the title track “Language Barrier” with Doug back rapping effects and even more funk lines from Mike Hampton’s guitar. Of course funk finishes the album up with quite a catchy “ Get To This, Get To That” and here we get to hear Bernard Fowler singing lead over more of a seventies style take albeit it is laced with electronics.
It did not receive the recognition that this album deserved when it was released garnering quite a mixed reception but if one looks back with today’s view point you will notice these musicians are light years ahead or right on the cusp if you prefer. Myself personally I love the use of the electronic kit that Sly Dunbar played and how he used the full electronic sound with Robbie’s pumping bass providing the support and Bill Laswell’s production. Their next similar album “Rhythm Killers” which garnered a much better reception is perhaps better played and mixed but “Language Barrier” was a more original album and who else would rush in and get that new Rap stuff included, although at this time it was really not all that new for the Rhythm Twins as they had been doing Jamaican Dancehall for around 7 to 8 years by then, “Yep, they were light year s ahead”.