In the world of music, when other artists "name check" you in their own songs, you can be assured that you have reached some level of worldwide notoriety. If this occurs after your death, and on the strength of only one "great" album, it is a testament to the strength of that album. The fact that, over a decade after his tragic death, Bradley Nowell is still being mentioned in songs, serves as proof to how spectacular a musician he was, as well as the longevity of the power of his songs. Releasing only three albums, Sublime's 1996 self-titled record is far and away their finest recording, and easily one of the most important records of the decade.
The album, originally slated with the title Killin' It, was retitled, and given a new cover when Nowell died of a heroin overdose only seven weeks before the albums' release. Sublime was a very unexpected commercial success, yielding a trio of hit singles, including a now legendary number one song. While "Wrong Way" and "Santeria" have both been permanently ensconced into music history, there is little doubt that Sublime will always be best remembered for the anthemic, "What I Got." The song, which ironically is a rather dark tale of drug abuse, was so perfectly crafted, that you can ask ten people what their favorite part is, and chances are, you'll get ten different answers. More than a decade after its release, "What I Got" still receives regular airplay and can be regularly heard at sporting events, as well as in a countless number of video games.
At the time of Sublime's release, there was simply no other band in the world making similar music. Combining a deep love for punk, thrash, SKA, and surf-rock, Sublime's sound is varied enough to keep the record interesting, yet the songs are undoubtedly cohesive. The sound of the band goes from the lulling, mellow "Jailhouse" (which happens to be a Bob Marley cover), to the thrashed-out, "Paddle Out" to the dub inspired, riot tale, "April 29, 1992 (Miami)." The interplay between bassist Eric Wilson and the guitar of Bradley Nowell is in perfect balance throughout the various styles displayed on Sublime. Wilson's bass thumps and growls, and combined with the classic "SKA" rhythm from Nowell, they create the blissful "bounce" that defines the SKA sound, and it helps to make Sublime one of the most enjoyably addictive records ever. Drummer Bud Gaugh proves to be one of the most diverse drummers of the decade. From jazzy, island-inspired rhythms, to full-force punk explosions, Gaugh performs brilliantly on each and every song. Keeping things musically simple, Sublime found a formula that worked superbly for their talent, and staying within the sounds' musical boundaries help to make Sublime an album that reflects its namesake.
At the core of Sublime, musically, lyrically, and spiritually is the now legendary Bradley Nowell. Though he passed away shortly before the albums' release, he quickly gained "cult" status due to the worldwide success Sublime. Nearly every song on the album is unpretentious to the point where they are universally releatable, yet each song is clearly personal to Nowell. Though the lyrics on Sublime are nothing extraordinary, the honesty and simplicity found within the words helped to catapult Nowell to the heights of stardom. Nowell also possesses the same simplicity and honesty in his voice, making each song a very personal experience between Bradley and the listener. Singing with as much soul and emotion as any frontman in history, the voice of Bradley Nowell has become one of the most recognizable sounds of the era. Even when the music is heavy and fast, Bradley's vocals are measured, clear, and concise. A perfect example of the juxtaposition between the music and vocals is found on the multi-tempo'ed, SKA-driven, "Same In The End." Throughout Sublime, often amid the chaos of the music, the steady, sincere voice of Bradley Nowell proves to be the element that takes the band from "good" to "great."
Throughout the history of music, there are countless singers and bands whose careers ended far too early. Nearly all of them beg the "what if" question due to the potential shown within the work they left behind. Presenting an honesty that often borders on haunting, Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell undoubtedly falls into the category of great musicians who were gone far too soon. Sublime's punk/metal infused SKA/reggae sound remains unsurpassed to this day, and though often singing about dark themes, the overall mood of their sound is upbeat and hopeful. Though their entire small catalog is worth owning, Sublime's self titled release is an absolute essential, and without question worthy of being referred to as "required listening."
Standout tracks: "What I Got," "Seed," and "Paddle Out."