Sublime: Why Yes, They Are

author: frigginjerk date: 04/19/2004 category: artists' discussions
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Hello fellow UG'ers. This article marks what is the first in a series of pieces from the UG columns team on significant albums in rock history. We'll be profiling landmark recordings, and discussing why they are more than just a solid album from one of our favorite bands. These ablums are relevant beyond their content, and should be recognized as such. I have chosen to write about Sublime's self-titled (and final) album.

About The Band & The Album

Sublime was a three-man band, that formed in the late 80's, and disbanded when lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose in May of 1996. Their sound can only be described as diverse; ranging from punk, ska, hip-hop and reggae, to rock, psychedelic, dub, and folk. The two surviving members are bassist Eric Wilson, and drummer Bud Gaugh. They now have another band, called the Long Beach Dub Allstars. This self-titled disc was released after Brad's death, the band's first recording with MCA. Brad had finished the bulk of his work on it, so the band decided to release it anyways. Sadly, this album would have been their mainstream breakthrough, and the payoff for all of the band's hard work. Instead it served as an obituary.

Social Relevance

This album is a sad paradox. In the two years between the release of "Robin' The Hood" (1994) and this self-titled disc (1996), Brad Nowell had taken up heroin, and had struggled with the addiction throughout the recording of this album. Although his death was a true waste, and a tragic loss for the music community, this album probably wouldn't have been quite as brilliant and emotional if it hadn't been the diary of a heroin-addicted punk rock genious living in California. There are several themes to this record, such as drug use (Garden Grove, The Ballad Of Johnny Butt, What I Got), illegal sex (Wrong Way, Seed, Caress Me Down), as well as straight-forward loud-as-hell punk rock (Same In The End, Paddle Out, Burritos). This album drips with the rawness of early N.W.A. records, and paints a truly vivid picture of life for a poor musician in California.

Brad's Guitar Playing

In my humble little opinon, Brad Nowell is the most underrated guitarist in punk music, and among the most underrated guitarists of his generation. His knack for making the guitar do the talking is comparable to Hendrix's ability for the same technique. It's rare to find a punk album that features such a range of soloing techniques. There's balls-out shredding on tracks like "Seed," and "Burritos." The songs "Jailhouse," "Santeria," and "Under My Voodoo" feature expressive, melodic solos and interludes, reaching into the realm of the psychedelic. There's even a slide solo (unheard of in most punk music) on the the reprisal of "What I Got." It's also impressive to see the range of playing styles that Brad uses on this album. Most of the songs have an all-upstroke ska backbeat, which will usually shift into something completely different halfway through the song. A good example is the song "Burritos." It starts out with a huge intro solo, and then moves into a fast ska rhythm for the verses, peppered with Van Halen-esque fills between lines. As the song begins to build, the soloing starts again, and continues into the verses. Brad was no stranger to the acoustic guitar, as his catchy playing on "What I Got" demonstrates. The warm open-chord sounds of the verses complement nicely with the chorus lick. This song just goes to show that you only need two chords and a catch phrase to have a hit song. His stage setup was relatively simple. He used an Ibanez S-470, and a custom-made axe, and ran them through and overdrive pedal, a delay pedal, and straight into a 50W Marshall Combo for distortion, and a Roland JC-120 for cleans. This minimalist setup shows that he didn't rely on a massive pedalboard to hide shoddy playing.

Key Tracks

01. What I Got / What I Got (Reprise) This song is the one everybody knows from Sublime. It's got a jangly folk-feel, and just makes you feel good when you hear it. The song is basically a testament to simple living, playing the guitar, and being a good person. The difference between the first recording and the reprise is that the first one was semi-improvised (lyrically), and featured just an acoustic guitar, bass and a DJ table with a drum machine. The reprise is done with multiple guitars, features a blistering slide interlude, and has a full band playing. "I got a dalmation, I can still get high... and I can play the gui-tar like a mother-fuckin' riot!" 02. Santeria For those who have always wondered, Santeria is a pantheistic religion that is often practiced in the Carribbean. This track is a nice little ska number, overlayed with appregios and a beautiful melodic solo. "I don't practice Santeria, I ain't got no crystal ball... I had a million dollars, but I... I spent it all." 03. Jailhouse & 04. Pawn Shop Nobody in the band knows who wrote "Jailhouse." The liner notes actually say: "All songs written by Sublime except Jailhouse, whose writer is unknown." However the lyrics are far from the focus of the song. They appear to be the inside-joke-laden musings of a bunch of stoners, and will likely never be fully understood. But the guitar playing on the track truly highlights the expressionism of Brad's guitar style; he really lets his guitar do the talking on this track. "Jailhouse," along with "Pawn Shop" really shows off the bands ability to bring the listener into a trance, to really get lost in the music. 05. Under My Voodoo This song really highlights the psychedelic side of the band, and could be interpreted as a tip of the hat to Jimi Hendrix, considering the song's title, and the guitar sounds on the track. 06. April 29, 1992 An interesting song, based on the LA riots that occurred on that date, and on similar riots that happened in Miami in 1980. This song shows off the hip-hop side of Sublime's sound, and it also lends insight into the mindset of where the band was coming from lyrically. References to guns, bulletproof vests, murder, prostitution and (obviously) drug use are sprinkled throughout Sublime's music.

The Flow of The Album:

This is one of those magic albums that you can stick in your discman and somehow have an 80 minute memory lapse. The songs flow into one another very well, and the mood shifts very subtly. The opening track, "Garden Grove" is a mellow intro track, that appropriately sets the stage for the themes of the album. After "What I Got," the band kicks into high gear with a string of ska-punk songs. The middle of the album stretches out sonically, with such jam tracks as "Pawn Shop" and "Jailhouse." Following these, the songs get more and more psychedelic, until we reach the reprise of "What I Got." The album closes with the chilled-out minimalist tune "Doin' Time." This was clearly a concept album, as it leaves the listener feeling as though they have really connected with the band, and you have a better understanding of where they were coming from when they made these songs. Sublime were a truly brilliant band, and this album is a very appropriate way to cap off their career. In a way, I think it might be better that they were forced to disband, as I would hate to imagine what would have happened if these guys got rich, bought mansions and Porsches, and removed themselves from the rough environment that served as the muse for both their lyrics and their sound. Sublime never sold out, but it can be argued that Brad died before he had the chance to do so. I guess it's true, what Jimi Hendrix once said: "Once you die, you're set for life." Sublime will be forever revered by stoners, punks, and guitarists everywhere. Buy this album if you have the money. Borrow it from a friend if you're broke. Download it if you're broke and friendless. But don't deprive yourself of this music. It's not just punk rock, and it's not just stoner music. Sublime brought virtuosity to punk rock guitar playing, and brought punk rock sensibility to countless other genres, and this album is their master work. Listen to it.

Contact Info

Tom Leblanc, aka FrigginJerk, asstoupee@hotmail.com Wanna write articles for UG? Follow this link, and post in the forum to get started on your own articles.
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