After Hawai’i ’13 hooked me for the islanders The Green, I was crossing my fingers that their next album would keep up the momentum. After their first two solid LPs, their last release felt like the culmination of hard touring and growing pains. So, what would Marching Orders (Easy Star Records, 2017) encompass? Surprisingly, it takes a magical shift in tone, opting for darker melodies and chord progressions. Of course, many of the songs keep up with what The Green holds close: lover’s rock and fastidious mingling of roots reggae with R&B-saturated pop. Going this route is tricky, and getting too smarmy, gooshy, or polished in post-production could undo the meatiness of what makes The Green so good. Marching Orders balances delicately on this line, yet thankfully, each risk, especially on the pop-ier tracks, succeeds.
The first single, “Mama Roots”, is something of a tease. Nowhere else on Marching Orders does The Green maintain this upbeat, party vibe. Featuring guest J Boog, this flawless song harkens back to the boys’ growing up on reggae music (an oft-integrated part of Hawaiian living). I’m always pressing The Green to get more personal, and they meet that challenge here. The sexy horns and plunky keys keep the energy high, and the breakdown with the bridge, “I got big doobs coming outta my garage,” is just so freakin’ fun. Having Caleb Keolanui and J Boog trading lines, is also a highlight.
“Land of Love”, with its multi-layered acoustic guitar introduction, is vital to the album, “Maybe we could all learn to do our part/ from the heart,” Caleb ponders. “We’re all equal/ even though we’re not the same.” This meditative song pulses, and the harmonized backing vocals brings forth part of what makes The Green so charming. This is also one of the songs where lead vocals are shared amongst the group. With a political/spiritual message like this one, trading verses helps The Green sound even more like a band.
A few songs stray far from this very island-reggae quality. “Foolish Love” could, in all honesty, be a Backstreet Boys outtake (maybe that dates my knowledge of pop music)- or some other radio-ready star. The synth drums and heartfelt, goopy chorus that ends, “I’m just another fool in love,” could easily be too much for this critic, but the album isn’t flush with these, this is just one song among many, and that’s important to mention. The Green will try out different styles without ever abandoning their core sound. In fact, “Foolish Love” is one of my favorite songs on the album! However, it’s a far cry from Hawai’i ‘13’s “Hold Me Tight” or “Striking Up A Love”. I miss that energy on Marching Orders.
The same pop aura is on “All I Need”, which doesn’t have the same glory. The lyrics are trite. “You’re all I want/ in my life, girl,” the chorus flutters. “You’re my everything/ The sunshine in my world.” I can’t get behind this, even though The Green is all about this. It’s just that sometimes they obtain more uniqueness. “So Cool” is an example. “We can cruise around the island in my ’69 Chavelle,” JP Kennedy coos. I can picture this! This is real.
But I’m really more interested in the more spiritual, political songs. I think The Green downplays how good they are at these. As a very tight-knit group with deep heritage to draw from, the band possesses a spiritual vibration that, on songs like “My Rights”, combines playfulness, meditation, and collectiveness. A cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” proves the band’s ability to harness a message when it feels appropriate. They totally reimagine the song and, oh wow- how reggae it is!
In many ways, I still prefer Hawaii ’13, but not every album a great band makes needs to be the best. Marching Orders is certainly no letdown. I think the last album embraces that spiritual virality that I’m interested in. The Green puts too much focus on love songs, and they don’t need to. Maybe that’s what make the album’s title so fitting. This album is about learning what The Green’s calling truly is. Definitely worth checking out.