Neil Weiss Reviews - July 5, 1996

Review of Sublime

Sublime's third album has the rare and dubious honor of being both a hello and a goodbye. It's the band's major label debut and, in the wake of the recent overdose death of singer/guitarist/songwriter Brad Nowell, its swan song as well. 'Tis a shame, because this eponymous collection displays a group whose punk/ska blend was more original and potentially durable than that of similarly-minded acts like No Doubt, Rancid, and countless others.

This power trio cranks out tunes equal parts crunch and finesse. In fact, it's amazing how many feel-good rhythms come out of Sublime's punk/ska/reggae arsenal. The grooves are spiced up with inventive samples, Dr. Dre-like synth lines, and shades of dub and dancehall that get the feet moving and the head-bopping, or even banging, in a genre-bending euphoria. But do not be fooled such giddiness. As Nowell declares early on, "this ain't no funky reggae party."

In "Burritos," easily the most frisky of the seventeen tracks, Nowell's character simply "ain't getting out of bed today." But this isn't a Ferris Bueller-type day off. Instead, he's avoiding the 12-year-old whores with drunk-ass dads, moms who smoke crack, looters, cop-hating gangstas, guns and, not surprisingly, needles. It's a pretty somber world out there among the surf, skateboards, and keggers of the SoCal beach scene. Who knew that the land of the endless summer was actually Babylon?

Nowell occasionally slips into an unconvincing Jamaican reggae vocal affectation, but more often is a surprisingly soulful singer. On songs like "Seed" and the stunning, anthemic "What I Got," his gruff voice conveys both the macho posturing and the fear and confusion that might stem from such a nightmarish environment. He is not apologetic for his hoodlum ways ("Pull out the 9/pop in the clip/and let one slip into these crazy fools," he sings of a snitch), but he does repeatedly hope for something better.

In the '80's, The Clash would regularly push the boundaries of their street-tough punk rock by experimenting with everything from reggae to rockabilly. With this record, Sublime hints at such ambition as well. Sadly, we can only imagine where it might have taken them.

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