Album in Depth: Sublime by Sublime

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. So, this time around, I’m reviewing a suggestion of a college friend of a band I never heard before, Sublime. This time around, I’m entering this magical and mystery tour completely ignorant as I write this review, even though most of the time I only need some mild search and some checking on facts. So, who are Sublime and why the hell I never heard of them before? A little background is as always required, even so for me.

The year is 1996. The English Patient snatches the best picture academy award and Independency Day has its première and even though most people nowadays don’t like the picture, I enjoy it. Real Love, the Lennon song that wasn’t even in the know of the rest of the band, is released with the help of the other Beatles and the Ramones make their last show. Duke Nukem kicks ass in the third dimension as Mario on the n64 on the same year, and Pokémon Green and Red are released (strong year for gaming).

Sublime, a Californian ska band, was only getting fame out of California and the West side of the U.S.A. Even though now and then they got a little more of an attention from the media, their first album released in a major label was their self-titled album, which is their third album (I hate when bands name albums that aren’t their debut with the same name as the band, it only confuses people). Before Sublime, all two albums were released under the Skunk Records label, which was owned by Bradley Nowell, singer and guitarist of the band. Beside him, Bud Gaugh on the drums and Eric Wilson closed the… power trio? I guess so.

Unfortunately, this was their third, most successful album and last. Two months before its release, although the album was already complete, Brad Nowell had a heroin overdose and is found deceased. After that, the band lost its frontman and decides to not go on with another vocalist. Although they recently decided to go on tour as Sublime With Rome, the attempt of going only by the name Sublime had some legal issues.

And you really can’t talk about sublime without mentioning Lou Dog, the Dalmatian owned by Bradley that was allowed to run around on the stage at the shows. Most bands don’t have a charismatic mascot to go along with and in some lyrics, the dog is even mentioned. That is a cool move and should make things a tad bit more interesting.

The cover is shitty in its way, but I can’t really say it’s horrible. I think that I could do a job similar or better, but I think the issue was just thinking of a way to stay with the CA surf/skate following and the major label without people saying that “they are famous now and it’s bad now that they aren’t focusing at us”. It’s the back of someone with the band and album’s name tattooed on it. It fits with the band but does not show creativity whatsoever. The entire length of the album is 58:31, an hour long album is not a good sign, with the longest song being “Pawn Shop” running 6:02 and the shortest one being “Paddle Out” with 1:17.

The album had a great reception, having the best reviews of their entire discography, being only three. The album achieved 5x premium and got some high remarks on the billboard chart. So, let’s get this over with already: Sublime by… Sublime.

1st track: “Garden Grove” – I wouldn’t call this a horrible song. It’s pretty bad, but the word I’m looking for is boring. The start has some charm with a strange string section that promises something new, but then, after some time, is just reggae. And unfortunately, reggae is something I don’t like, so this one comes across very badly: Californian reggae with hints of hip hop with scratch effects and a uninspired vocal that is misplaced even considering the nature of the song. The lyrics, for what I could understand, is a metaphor to drugs, mostly (I can’t really say if only) marijuana. Bland opening to an album: not looking forward to this at all.

2nd track: “What I Got” – First things first, this one is their greatest hit on the radio and I can clearly see why. Despite the reggae start, they pick the ball up with a kind of pop tune with some creative lyrics and even though the reggae is not forgotten (crap, there’s a bridge where Jamaican reggae comes in at full throttle, even more reggae than the previous one), it’s not annoying as most reggaes are. The chorus is the type that gets in your head for ever and ever: one of the best songs in this album, for sure.

3rd track: “Wrong Way” – Another single, Wrong Way is a fun song. The lyrics are fun in their own way: the story of a fourteen year old prostitute (or maybe older if you think that she is already in the business some time) and even though the singer is trying to help her, well, he’s just a man so he still does the wrong things. The musical part of the song is also awesome, with a ska upbeat to it. But there is actually something I must address in this song. There is a solo, and even though the solo is, well, ass, it is announced with the singer saying “dub style”. I don’t get Dub music. I don’t think it even exists. Dub in reality, at least in most things I heard, is reggae. Like Dub Side of the Moon, one of the worst things to ever hit the shelves: it’s Dark Side of the Moon in reggae form. Maybe sometimes it has some ska elements, but it’s a part of reggae. It’s not, from what I could gather, something apart from reggae. A part from that, great song.

4th track: “Same in the End” – This song is a more traditional ska song… kind of. The chorus is very metal. This is the sort of thing that I advocate for: when you mix some genres with creativity and, well, knowledge. Even though the song is normally a very fast ska song, the chorus comes with a metal guitar and wouldn’t you know it, it fits like a glove. In fact, although I said the last two songs were awesome in their way, I would prefer listening to this one in the end. I’m not a huge fan of reggae, so I don’t know if I’m being biased, but this one really went well with my particular tastes.

5th track: “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” – This one is a riot song. What can I say about it… well, I don’t agree with the lyrics. They sort of say what they did in the riot, and what they did, well, is not something you should. I’m not for the capitalist side of things, I would say I’m much more of an anarchist guy, in fact, that’s how I like to position myself in political stances, but what they describe in this song is taking advantage of a problem, in this case the pardon of four cops that were videotaped beating up a black guy named Rodney King, to steal and promote chaos. I understand perfectly the reason to why go to the streets to fight the system in cases like these, but I won’t promote chaos. These guys say that they put fire on a building, and that sort of behavior is really hypocritical. With that being said, it’s a very calm song, if you believe that. It has some rapping parts here and there, and states something that even though reprehensible, is a showcase of a time. So far, with the exclusion of the first song, it’s a very good album.

6th track: “Santeria” – This is my guilty pleasure of this album: I love this song. It’s catchy, is bouncy, smart lyrics, cool instrumentations, this song is one of the greatest reggae songs I have ever heard and probably the most far on reggae that I will get, to show you people how reggae doesn’t fill my cup of tea. Even though it’s reggae, it has this strange Mexican vibe to it, maybe it’s because of the guitar solo, yes, it has one. This song, even though it was a single, was not as successful as What I Got, which really strikes me at odd. And the worst part is: most people that enjoy Sublime hate this track, because it plays everywhere. It became the “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” where people that are oblivious to Pink Floyd know of it, and it’s not Pink Floyd greatest hit. But even I, a huge Floyd fan, have to say that it is a great track, so, people who like Sublime, I know it plays a bajillion times and it wore off in your opinion does not mean that the song is bad. It is a great song.

7th track: “Seed” – This is a whiplash song, for a lack of a better word. It stays changing styles, going from punk, reggae to ska and back. It’s really strange, and the mood changes slap you in the faces over and over to the point of non-enjoyment. Even though the punk part and more heavy stuff is great, they should’ve tried a mix instead of a constant change of genre.

8th track: “Jailhouse” – Well… after great tracks, it gets more reggae. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting that, because for what I could gather (I never heard anything else of them outside this album), Sublime is a Californian reggae surf music band so they have to do this type of music. I don’t like it, but only because my particular tastes don’t match these types of song, they sound generic and the vocal is boring. By the three minute mark, you’re begging for the end of the song: repetitiveness gets under your skin. And the worst of it is that by the end, there is a guitar solo that is totally obscured by the rest of the song, and the guitar solo is not that bad. They should’ve given it more space.

9th track: “Pawn Shop” – The longest song of the album and it’s boring. In this one, my problem with reggae is evidenced: the rhythm. It’s always the fucking same. 6 minute of the same thing wears off. Lyrically, it’s shit. They repeat the same shit over and over again, with some minor changes here and there, and when I say minor, it really is minor. But if you could, for just one second, ignore COMPLETELY the beat and the vocal, you can focus on the guitar and the keyboard, which are the only points that are kind of good. They give the guitarist two solos that are enjoyable and the keyboard sometimes is good to listen, not great, just… different. Other than that, this song is bland, boring, and repetitive and doesn’t add anything. The only reason I can see this one being of any good is at the calm moment of the reggae concert, where pot is the king, and I get that. But to listen to this on sober, lucid and at home, it’s a bad track.

10th track: “Paddle Out” – Followed by the shortest one. And it’s boring. It’s kind of the complete punk rock scenario, really hardcore, with a rockabilly guitar solo. And it blows. This is the part where I look back and think: what the hell are they doing? When they tried one side of the scale, they screwed it up, when they tried the other, they screwed it up again. I mean, come on, they can do better than this.

11th track: “The Ballad of Johnny Butt” – Boring. Again. Really really really boring. It’s a song that lyrically, could be like Hurricane, with a complex story attached to it, but instead, chooses to be boring. It’s just… reggae. Ass boring reggae. There’s nothing more to say: it’s like Pawn Shop but more boring, shorter and dumber, I think. For the amount I praised some of these tracks, it really annoys me to be saying this, but this one is a waste.

12th track: “Burritos” – This is a strange song. After three boring songs, this one is kind of like… well… confusing, to say the least. At the start, a cool as hell instrumental intro kicks in and just leaves at the forty second mark. But when the vocal pops up, you don’t know what to think. It sometimes don’t even care what is the melody, and for the upbeat ska, the lyrics about what the singer don’t want to do, which is everything except staying in bed, really makes me look at this song with confused eyes. It’s not as bad as the previous four tracks, but it’s not as good as the ones I praised.

13th track: “Under My Voodoo” – …grunge? No, it’s not exactly like grunge, but it’s like grunge none the less. It’s kind of like Grunge meats Hard Rock, and that is strange as hell. It’s sounds as if it bad recorded, and what could’ve been a really cool attempt to do something inventive and different comes across as a shitty attempt to with an album, please everyone. That’s not what probably happened, but it’s what it sounds like. There is a more reggae oriented section: the outro, but when you get there, you don’t even care anymore, even more with the outro’s… outro that is just startling guitars. This song is sort of trash, even though there is kind of a cool intro.

14th track: “Get Ready” – Get ready to what? A shitty reggae song that makes reference to drugs and saying that forbidding hemp is wrong? So, I have to get ready to the same shit that everyone else already heard a gazillion times? Boring and repetitive. There are some hip hop scratching parts that can be worse than the song. It’s like they made part of the album to be creative and great and the other to just respond to their agenda. “First, please people with ears, now we have to satisfy reggae listeners and pot smokers, you know, our fanbase.” I’m not claiming that their fanbase is only made of people that smoke pot, but it’s like if it was a huge segment of their fans. I’m not against the liberation of marijuana: in fact, I think that every drug should be legal so it can be controlled and properly used, so people won’t be inhaling glass by accident. But there were bands before that defended pot and other substances with songs without being blatant and investing some talent in it while they were at it. Don’t do a boring song about popping a cop when he catches you smoking an illegal substance (which by the way, they say in the song). By the way, it’s fucking boring. Not as bad as Ballad of Johnny Butt, but really really bad.

15th track: “Caress Me Down” – I don’t know if this is fun or just offensive, but I’ll stick with fun. There are some lyrics in Spanish (which by the way, I get) and there is reference to Costa Rica, but I won’t be the only one to be looking for messages or prejudice. So, the way he chose to hide inappropriate lyrics was to translate them in Spanish: cool maneuver if the majority of your fanbase is California. The melody of the song is boring, but this time, it’s not as boring as the other boring songs from this album: it’s one of those songs where you can see that they were just having fun and you can’t really blame someone for trying to have unrestricted fun while singing. It’s just not my cup of coffee, but it’s good.

16th track: “What I Got (Reprise)” – Well, it is a more rock ‘n roll version of What I Got, and in my opinion, it’s better than the first one, but not by much: virtually, it’s the same song, but without some strange effects, like echoes and lo-fi recordings. I don’t see why they did this, but as they did, it’s a good addition to the library. It’s still not as good as Wrong Way or Same In the End, but is better than, well, most of these songs. Just that.

17th track: “Doin’ Time” – There only release to get into the billboard charts in the form of a single: strange that it isn’t the more critically acclaimed recording since the billboard charts usually gets at least the popular straight. This one is hip hop over lounge music. For you to see how lounge music this is, it is credited to Gershwin. How fucked up is that? The song is lame, but it’s not bad: it’s a bad finale to the album, but still, better than some of these songs. For the high key that the album starts, the end is really unsettling of how standard it became.

So, how does it all hold up? After 5 great songs, the album steps into mediocrity and stays there for the rest of the album, with some minor good songs now and then. It has Santeria, Wrong Way and Same in the End, which in my opinion, are great songs, but the rest of it lack the panache that these have. If this album gets in your hands, listen to it once just to make sure there is no forgotten song that you may or may not like, but stick to the three great songs if you want to listen only three great songs.

This is JotaKa, signing of.

Follow me on twitter: @jotakapf

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1 Response to Album in Depth: Sublime by Sublime

  1. Christopher Robin Meade says:

    wow i mean i know it’s you’re opinion and all and this is geniuely well written something about this just screams ametuer and contarian. ah well can’t agree with everyone

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