Sound — 9
Sublime with Rome is a California band that originally featured the two living members of Sublime collaborating with guitarist/singer Rome Ramirez. At the end of 2011, drummer Bud Gaugh left the band and was replaced by journeyman drummer Josh Freese. Today, the band can be described as a mixture of ska, punk, reggae, and pop.
Having listened to the album a couple of times through, I would describe the band's sound as that of Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Mak'er" with much more of a summer party atmosphere. There is an obvious mix of all the aforementioned elements but the best descriptor of the album is "fun." All of the songs are short and lighthearted, usually accented by clean, upstroked guitar triads.
Despite this being a relatively simple album as far as songwriting goes, it is clear that each of the three members is a master of his instrument. On drums, Josh Freese has amazing touch. With a good deal of reverb put on his drums, he exhibits remarkable control over how hard he hits the drums, almost always getting a perfect reaction that mixes with the reverb to give a fat sound. Moreover, his work on the cymbals is much more complex than I would have imagined; they like a story all their own. In addition, his snare hits also have a tremendous amount of variation to the point that it seems like Freese specially crafted each snare hit for each measure. In total, his drum sound is the exact opposite of what a programmed drum would sound like: soulful and sensible.
Likewise, Rome Ramirez shows a good deal of regard for cadence and touch in his guitar playing. This is clearest in "Best of Me," the most punk song on the album. Here Ramirez appears to rely on superior pick control/attack to attain most of his distortion, especially in the guitar solo, where the bends and double stops display the sheer emotion that can only come from straining one's hands, not from a heavy distortion pedal.
The superb musicianship displayed by all three members is punctuated by tasteful production values, especially with the reverb. The mixing of Rome Ramirez's guitar is clear and playful, coming out of both channels in a two-pronged attack complete with a delay effect that finds the sound jumping back and forth between channels. Similarly, with Josh Freese's drums, the producer uses targeted shots of reverb to accentuate the differences in his hits. The only production decision I disagree with is the use of the synth in the bridge of "Wherever You Go," which feels like a forced appeal to radio. Other than that, the production on this album is excellent and definitely puts this album over the top as far as ska albums go.
Lyrics — 8
Rome Ramirez's vocal performance is strong. However, this strength comes not from his unique voice or lyrics, but rather from his skillful adjustments across the album to fit his voice to the song. For example, he changes temperament tastefully on "Brazilia," "Been Losing Sleep," and "Skankin" to reflect the musical tones of each, which stray from the standard vibe displayed on songs like "Wherever You Go" and "House Party." Like everything else on this album, the vocals seem to fall into their perfect place.
Overall Impression — 9
With most mediocre albums, I find that fans of the band enjoy them yet newcomers and casual listeners do not. This album appears to be the exact opposite. Those who come to this album looking purely for more Sublime songs will be disappointed. This band is not Sublime and on this album it never tries to be (on stage and in marketing campaigns is another conversation). I can say unequivocally, despite any criticism from Sublime diehards, that this is a great album, especially coming from a band that has survived mostly off former glory. It mixes mostly ska and pop sensibilities to create a summer party album that is light, welcoming, and most importantly, fun. The album also manages to stay fresh after multiple listens due to its variety and eccentricities, which make it stick out from the normal pack of summer music.
Though this album may not be a classic to stand for all time, it will certainly be on my iPod for the rest of the summer. The best songs are the lead single "Wherever You Go" and "Gasoline," the benefactor of a smooth horn solo.