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An Album You Must Own: Sublime

posted Mar 29, 2011, 9:42 PM by Golden Knight

Posted in Music

By Christian Romo


It isn’t a good idea to idolize heroin addicts. Most of the people that saw Kurt Cobain’s arrival as the coming of the next prophet in the early 90’s are six feet under with the Nirvana singer himself. Musicians should never be placed on pedestals reserved for peacemakers and saints, especially when knowing all the risks, the drugs they ingested are what killed them.

Bradley Nowell is no exception. It’s easy to see why so many fans are turned off by Sublime, the second most important band from southern California (behind the Red Hot Chili Peppers), according to the two-headed monster KROQ. By the time his band’s major label debut and critically successful self-titled album came out, he was dead. He appears to have written more love songs for his Dalmatian Lou Dog than for anyone else. He smoked marijuana unapologetically and romanticized the seaside ghettos of Southern California. He certainly wasn’t popular among parents, and he was even discredited by his own fan base after a disastrous live tour following their debut album 40 oz. to Freedom

When you separate the bad from the beautiful, however, perceptions change dramatically. Going through the track list for their commercial smash, I count no less than eight different songs I have heard on California radio stations in my short lifespan, enough singles to fulfill three or four hit albums, much less one. While many focus on debauchery, substances, and irresponsibility, there is enough brief wisdom to fill a Zen gospel on life.

Their debut hit “What I Got”, besides being one of the happiest tunes of the decade, is overflowing with emotional prosperity (“life is too short/so love the one you got/’cause you might get run over/or you might get shot”). The anthemic “Jailhouse” gives the best case for the young and dejected I’ve ever heard. Bradley is an emotional writer, and if you can’t hear his urgency on their most famous track “Santeria”, there is no way you can be alive.

There’s plenty of disrespectful fun as usual for the Long Beach icons. “April 29th, 1992 (Miami)” describes a fictional riot during the Rodney King incident. “Wrong Way” and “Caress Me Down” had to go through some clever repackaging and heavy censorship to ride the airwaves, but both are classics in the neo-punk movement of the 90’s.

Besides writing about some challenging topics, Sublime became the mastheads for white reggae because they were competent musicians who knew what sounded good. Every bassline is prominent and silky smooth, every guitar solo pitch-perfect, and every drumbeat reminiscent enough of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. On “Seed”, they effortlessly alternate amongst punk, reggae, and ska without losing any intensity, a challenge for the most poised musicians, much less beach rats.

At 17 songs and nearly an hour long, there are a few songs that could have been left off. “The Ballad of Johnny Butt” and “Burritos” are worth a listen but nothing else, while “Pawn Shop” and “Under My Voodoo” should have been nixed entirely. If you’re patient enough to get to the end, however, you will be treated with some beautiful work. “Get Ready” is the best hammock track on the album and the “What I Got” reprise happens to better than the single itself. Ending the already fantastic album is “Doin’ Time”, a staple of bonfires and beach parties and quite possibly the best summer song ever composed.

While you shouldn’t idolize heroin addicts, if they preach about love and happiness in poverty, by all means listen. Bradley Nowell is not a saint, but at times he sure sounds like one.