Sound: The younger generation might not be too familiar with the band Bad Brains, but the hardcore punk/reggae group has been named as an influence by multiple musicians (everyone from Billy Corgan to Lil' John) since it formed back in the late '70s. Although the band was an instrumental in the D.C. hardcore punk movement in the early '80s, the quartet took a much more fascinating turn when it started to inject more reggae into it's sound. Bad Brains' latest record Build A Nation bounces back and forth between reggae and punk, and you can instantly hear how the veteran band has influenced such bands as Sublime and 311.
Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys is at the helm as producer, but bassist Darryl Jenifer recently pointed out that the rapper still left the creative direction entirely up to the band. Build A Nation definitely sticks to the band's trademark sound, and the 14-track CD is a must-have for anyone who is open-minded enough to enjoy both a little Bob Marley and Black Flag. The opening track Give Thanks And Praises is the perfect blend of both the mellow and aggressive side of Bad Brains, and is a fairly good representation of the album.
This is not to say that every single track dishes out equal parts reggae and punk. A song like Roll On is one of the most laid-back reggae tracks on Build A Nation, and the band wisely understood that throwing in a punk section was completely unnecessary. For listeners who have a hard time with pure reggae, a few tracks on the CD will probably try your patience because it will seem like you're listening to a traditional reggae release. If you do have eclectic taste, Build A Nation is the most honest reggae-punk you're likely to find today -- particularly considering most if not all of the band follow the Rastafari movement.
There have been a few lineup changes through the years and even included former Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley in the 80s. But the most recent incarnation of Bad Brains is the one that has endured the longest, featuring charismatic vocalist H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson. It's always fascinating to hear H.R.'s vocal phrasing change when he jumps from reggae to punk, and it's a credit to him that he's able to transition so smoothly. // 8
Lyrics: Although the band was accused of spewing negative lyrics in a few songs during their earlier years, it's obvious that the musicians have entered a different state of mind as they have gotten older. Build A Nation continued that trend, with songs that speak about everything from universal peace to giving thanks to a higher power. Many of these spiritual tracks do take a mellow turn, but that seems completely appropriate with titles like Jah Love and Peace Be Unto Thee. // 9
Overall Impression: Considering that Bad Brains started out as a hardcore punk band, they have still always been impressive musicians. Their songs go way beyond just a few basic chord patterns, particularly when the reggae comes into play. The last track Peace Be Unto Thee also features a fantastic horn section, which is extremely subtle and underplayed, yet still makes a lasting impression.
The album is a far cry from the younger, rebellious days of Bad Brains, and that may leave some punk purists a little disappointed. But if anything the album's lyrics and music show how much the band has grown. It's hard to say whether producer Adam Yauch's presence made that much of a difference in terms of the music, but hopefully the name notoriety alone will help Bad Brains receive a bit more recognition for their influence on today's music. // 9