Robbie’s revisionist history would like to paint this as a collection of leftovers on par with Odds & Sods (his words), which under the best hindsight would today equate it with Physical Graffiti and Tattoo You as well. That would be a wonderful thing if the songs were anywhere near those standards, which they’re not.
Beginning with a swell of ‘70s keyboards and sporting a smooth sax betwixt verses, “Right As Rain” isn’t too far removed from what is now known as yacht rock. If only it had a more organic arrangement, akin to the brown album, it might be worth salvaging, since Richard’s vocal deserves better. Rick tackles “Street Walker”, a fairly generic slice of New Orleans nightlife. “Let The Night Fall” is a little better, but only underscores that none of the songs so far truly stand out. Their cover of “Ain’t That A Lot Of Love” does, however, for the wrong reasons. A terrific blast of Memphis soul in its original recording (and subsequent versions by Taj Mahal), here it’s just thin and funkless, hardly on par with Moondog Matinee. “Christmas Must Be Tonight” isn’t the worst holiday song of the rock era, and even sounds sincere.
The title track is an instrumental, bolstered by a horn section and sounding again like yacht rock Muzak. On any other album “The Saga Of Popete Rouge” would seem slight, but here it’s got the right mix of mystery and “classic” Band arrangement to work. Richard’s take on “Georgia On My Mind” gets a little overdone at times, but they stick close enough to the template. “Knockin’ Lost John” is notable for Robbie’s lead vocal, and its lack of cohesion with Levon’s attempts to keep him on pitch, and he really should have laid off the whammy bar. And as a grand finale, the harmless “Livin’ In A Dream” hardly caps the career of a band so revered in their time. (The CD adds “Twilight”, a B-side stuck onto The Best Of The Band the year before, and an alternate take of “Georgia”.)
Islands wasn’t intended to be a send-off; the other guys would have been happy to continue without Robbie, but his marketing tactics made that tough to do. Instead the album remains as an afterthought, and the least essential of their catalog to date.
The Band Islands (1977)—2
2001 CD reissue: same as 1977, plus 2 extra tracks