Guilty Pleasure: Sublime – Sublime

Sometimes, a girl just can’t keep waiting for summertime. Even if your hometown is devoid of seasonal changes and it’s sunny out all year long, there comes a time in between March and May when the heat is just too damn much. Seriously, all you want to do is grab that six pack that looks so inviting sitting there in that gas station refrigerator and head to the closest body of water for some quality chillin’. When this time comes, and you’re itching to drop all responsibility and dive into your summer vacation, what better soundtrack than Sublime’s third and last studio album, their self-titled groove machine?

Released mid-summer in 1996, Sublime was the band’s only album to come out under the wing of a major record label (Gasoline Alley/MCA), and what’s tragic about it is that frontman Bradley Nowell didn’t even make it alive long enough to see it hit the stores. Nevertheless, Nowell’s heroin-related death didn’t prevent his last work from going Platinum five times and becoming this little lass’s party predilection.

Although some may say Sublime was just an unfortunate product of the 90s lowlife Cali crowd, or a mindless surfer boy experiment, I’m repping the LBC all the way. With tracks as classic as “Garden Grove”, “April 29, 1992”, “Doin’ Time”, “Caress Me Down”, and basically almost every other one on the album, I’m more than proud to bare my guilty pleasure. From beginning to end, Sublime captures the band’s ska, punk, & reggae kicks, offering a variety of styles from the radio-friendly, super boppy “What I Got”, to the slow, drawn out, sexy guitar of “Pawn Shop”, hardcore punk of “Paddle Out”, and chill hip-hop & latin vibes in “Doin’ Time”. This last track might be my sole favorite. It’s the perfect blend of soft congas, looping drum and bass, and the seductive serenade style that was Nowell’s forte.

I’m not much of a reggae fan, but listening to that man’s voice glide over their dubs, I can’t help but start hopping. There is such a decadent sexiness in his voice when it joins forces with the cadence of his guitar in numbers like “Pawn Shop”, it makes my hips just come alive and once the gyrating starts, it becomes contagious. It’s that neo-reggae funk that, for me, makes Sublime the band that means summertime.

Regardless of their obvious struggle with hard drugs, the guys in the band were able to produce carefree music, sometimes even incorporating a grimy sense of humor into their lyrics (see “Wrong Way”). They speak so clearly about a life of beer, weed, and desolate career prospects — a life I’ve come to know so well living in Miami, surrounded by twenty-somethings without direction and a love for days off. It always seemed to me like Nowell, bassist Bud Gaugh, and drummer Eric Wilson lead the same kind of existence. Southern Cali seems to be the 305 of the West Coast, and because our homes parallel each other, it’s easy for me to identify with their music, especially during times of leisure. This album, specifically, is great when you’re in the mood to take a load off and loosen up, maybe get a little raunchy, and break it down to “Caress Me Down”. This song masters the Long Beach dub beat and kills with its lyrics in Nowell’s broken Spanish, which is dirtier than a month-old litterbox.

Knowing the band’s history, their music also inspires a sort of rebellious nostalgia in me, especially tracks like “April 29, 1992”, which is truly more like an anthem than just a single. The second the bass kicks in after the cops are talking on the radio, a feeling of camaraderie is born within you. The song screams 1990s revolution with that killer bass line and the dropping of a “187” so casually in there. Perhaps there is just something extremely gratifying about hearing your hometown shouted out in a song about a riot. What’s great about Sublime’s version of rebellion is that it’s liberating without carrying that Cobain-esque aura of suffocation, which makes it more empowering rather than teenage angst-y. “Can’t fight against the youth!” declares Nowell in “Jailhouse”, and tell me that’s not just the kind of idealism you love to be a part of.

There are three basic elements that make Sublime worthy of keeping it in your iPod, even after you think you couldn’t bear to hear these songs more than you already have. First off, they had Brad Nowell for a vocalist at the time. The guy’s voice is like a lullaby that acts as a social lubricant. His soft moans and “everyman lyrics” always bear a sensuality that rolls so well over, around, and underneath the second reason to love them: Their beats are just so frickin’ laid back. Always kickin’ it with a relaxed bass and a backyard-band style drum beat that, together, invite you to join their group and their atmosphere by simply hanging out. Lastly, they couldn’t be Sublime without the synth dubs. In “Garden Grove”, they finish off the song with a sick turntable jam that follows Nowell’s listing of all his miserable activities. Marshall Goodman’s scratching combined with the slow drums and the song’s traditional ska/punk guitar make for a tune that is really just — there’s no other way to put it — sublime.


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