MTV Review- November 1, 1997
Mixing punk, hip-hop, dub, and turntable trickery with reggae and ska, 1996's Sublime was a rare skacore record that transcended the fad. Tragically, creative zenith coincided with the band's demise as Sublime singer/songwriter/guitarist Brad Nowell moved on to rock'n'roll heaven weeks before the disc hit the bins. Now, one year later, we are faced with the inevitable: the raiding of the vaults. A collection of live recordings is being prepared; an acoustic record is in the works. Meanwhile, we get an outtake odyssey entitled Second-Hand Smoke
Smoke collects 19 table scraps that cover the band's earliest low-fi demo days in 1987 on through to their last sessions. The thing is, as Smoke itself best proves, Sublime really wasn't all that prolific, spending nearly a decade finding their way to the sounds of Sublime. This translates into early tunes that amount to dull New Wave reggae ("Romeo"), marginal garage pop ("New Realization"), vocal posturing ("Had a Dat," "Don't Push") and, at their worst, bogus macho-male sentiments like "Friday night there's going to be another chick on my tip/But it won't be you baby" (from "Chick on my Tip").
Things got better around 1991, and, thus, so does Smoke. Nowell's solo-electric take on Bob Marley's spirit-raising "Trenchtown Rock" is stirring, especially for an impromptu studio moment. The organ-driven ska of "Badfish" also shows the vocalist coming into his own. Meanwhile, by then the entire band -- rounded out by bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh -- can be heard fusing into a tight, inventive unit. "Saw Red," a rambunctious, love/hate duet with No Doubt pal Gwen Stefani, also shines; of course, true Sublime fans already know this, as it can be found on the band's 1994 release Robbin' the Hood.
Ultimately, such moments are not enough to salvage Smoke, which concludes on the back third with various remixes and outtakes from the Sublime sessions with co-producer and Butthole Surfer Paul Leary. There are some interesting tidbits, especially the two drastically different remixes of the what may be the band's best song, "Doin' Time," but not enough to make you want to return to Smoke repeatedly, nor remove Sublime from the CD player for any extended period of time.