Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25: Sublime, "Don't Push"

Artist: Sublime
Song: "Don't Push"
Album: 40oz To Freedom
Year: 1992

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

It goes without saying that every band in history has had a large number of influence on its style, and it is these influences that give the later band their sound.  However, in most cases, the influences are largely of the same genre or era, and the bands' sound reflects this singular sound quite clearly.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, over time this smaller group of influences can lead to a lack of musical creativity, and the music can almost become "boring" after awhile.  This is why it is often the bands that have a wide range of influences that are the most consistently exciting and stand the test of time.  Pulling inspiration from everything from ska to folk to punk to reggae to thrash-metal, there are few bands that can compare to the amazing sound of Sublime.  Defining the "SoCal" sound for an entire generation, the bands' sometimes laid back, sometimes aggressive approach, the group quickly gained a massive following upon the release of their self-titled third album in 1996.  However, looking at the groups entire recorded catalog, one can easily make the case that it was their 1992 debut, 40oz To Freedom, that stands as their finest work, as well as the album which best represents their various influences.  Containing songs that display the entire spectrum of their sound, the album has everything from the mellow "Badfish" to the high-octane, aptly titled, "New Thrash."  However, if there is one stand-out track on the record, it is the song that perfectly captures all sides of Sublime's sound, the amazing track, "Don't Push."

The moment the song begins, it is like nothing else ever recorded, as it instantly displays the brilliant musical juxtapositions that makes the music of Sublime so fantastic.  The song kicks off with a signature ska guitar riff from the late Bradley Nowell, yet there is a enough distortion on his guitar to give it a harder, almost heavy metal edge.  It is this more aggressive style of the mellow ska/reggae sound that made Sublime's music so unique, and it often centers around Nowell's guitar work.  Alongside this sound, bassist Eric Wilson ensures that every song has a deep groove, and "Don't Push" is no different, as his playing instantly gets the listeners' head bobbing.  Rounding out the trio is drummer Bud Gaugh, and on this track he brings an almost jazz-like, sliding progression, and the tone and rhythm he gets from his snare is nothing short of spectacular.  The sound that the three create on "Don't Push" is truly uncanny, as they walk the line perfectly between mellow and heavy, and it is largely this ability to reach both ends of the spectrum that made Sublime such a hit across such a wide range of musical tastes.  Furthermore, one can easily make the case that it is due to Sublime that the ska sound found a brief re-birth in the mainstream during the mid-1990's, and yet they had set this process in motion years earlier with their phenomenal debut record.

As much as Sublime's music is instantly recognizable, similarly, one cannot mistake the amazing voice of Bradley Nowell.  Unquestionably one of the most talented vocalists of his generation, he consistently delivers some of the most raw and unguarded performances ever captured on tape.  Easily capable of singing in any vocal range, it is often Nowell's ability to jump from speaking to singing that leaves the listener in awe.  It is also his "everyman" approach that draws in the listener, as one would be hard pressed to find a singer whose voice is more encouraging for "sing alongs."  Furthermore, at its core, on nearly every song, it is clear that Nowell is enjoying the recording process, as there is always an upbeat tone in his voice, even when delivering heavier, emotionally charged lyrics.  It is often within these lyrics that one can find many subtexts, as well as consistent "shout outs" to Sublime's influences.  It is on "Don't Push" that one can find all of this, as Nowell name drops Bob Marley, as well as lifting a line from the Beastie Boys song, "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun."  The group also gives a nod to Pink Floyd on the song, and the fact that all three of these exceptionally diverse groups all added to the sound that "is" Sublime sets the group far aside from nearly any of their peers.  Furthermore, Bradley Nowell is able to spin in one of the most beautiful lines in history when he sings, "...if I had a shotgun, you know what I'd do? I'd point that shit straight at the sky, and shoot heaven on down for you..."  Playing the mellow against the aggressive in nearly every sense, along with having an absolutely extraordinary vocal presence is what makes Bradley Nowell such a legend within the world of music.

Not quite punk, not quite ska, and not quite surf-rock, it is almost impossible to give an accurate, single genre classification to the music of Sublime.  In reality, the group themselves "are" the definition of their sound, as there was really no other group making music like them before they appeared on the scene.  Proving this, the fact that their 1992 debut album, 40oz To Freedom contains cover songs of everyone from The Descendents to The Grateful Dead to novelty act The Toyes (among others), serves as a testament to just how diverse their influences were, and this wide range of sounds is the key to making their own music so unique.  Basing their music in the ska style, Sublime regularly puts a more aggressive spin on the music, and their song, "Don't Push," brilliantly represents this sensational musical achievement.  The song brings a more modern, punk-inspired ska sound, and Bradley Nowell's vocal approach contains elements of everything from dub to hip-hop, making his voice equally as unique as the music over which he sings.  Never afraid to pay homage to their influences, Sublime does so both musically and lyrically, and it is the fact that they have so many different bands to "thank" for their sound that makes every one of their songs so distinctive.  Though it was their third record that shot them to stardom, the true brilliance of Sublime lives on their 1992 debut album, and their superb, irresistible sound is perfectly summed up on their amazing song, "Don't Push."

No comments: