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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bad Brains, "I Against I"

Bad Brains
"I Against I"
SST (1986)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

When Tom Moon and Tim Scott respectively write about punk band Bad Brains, you immediately get the idea that there is something offset in the band’s music that makes it reggae. This needs a little clarification.

Does the music sound reggae? No. Not at all. The music could be described as funkier because bassist Darryl Jennifer is more audible than your typical punk record, but it's still a stretch. There is certainly no “ska stroke” guitar here however. That would be, well, ridiculous, at the speed normally endorsed by hardcore punk bands. The reggae is in the lyrics. Whereas the Dead Kennedys were playing fast and more talented than the average punk band on the West Coast, with a snarling and often deranged attitude, Bad Brains was doing the same thing with less radical solutions to the problem.

It’s easy to understand, coming from four Rastafarian individuals in the area of Washington D.C. Reggae is the obvious genre for the Rasta, but Bad Brains felt punk and by God they were. The variety of the ‘80s punk scene in the District is incredible. Bad Brains were rowdy and energetic, but they couldn’t be any more different than the area’s straightedge superstars, Minor Threat.

As I mentioned, Bad Brains was similar to other hardcore bands of the era, especially the Dead Kennedys, because they weren’t afraid to show some talent on their instruments. Punk has unfortunately come to be overly simplistic. Technical and tough instrumental movements are frowned upon because it contradicts the “low man on the totem pole” attitude of the movement. The DK may beat BB overall in terms of clever lyrics, but the talent of guitarist Gary “Dr. Know” Miller is uncontested within punk. His influence on later bands is obvious on tracks like “Re-Ignition;” the riff sounds like early Offspring (if you consider them punk) and his blistering solos clearly inspired later black rock bands such as Living Colour.

The group sometimes veers from its punk roots into “hard-rock” towards the end of the album, but the cream is on the first half. The title track and “Let Me Help” is the band at its punk best. Vocalist Paul “H.R.” Hudson’s intonation changes are great for the style because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The less-hardcore attitude than that of other hardcore bands might be a turn off for some punk fans, but the level of instrumental talent should be an inspiration for all punk artists.

INTERESTING FACT: This is stated in both books, but certainly merits repeating: The vocals for “Sacred Love” were recorded via prison-telephone call while Hudson was incarcerated on marijuana possession charges. I can only imagine how they organized this.

I Against I by Bad Brains on Grooveshark

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