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40 oz to Freedom

 

Sublime

1992

Sublime’s debut album was largely overlooked outside of the college radio circuit when it was released back in 1992.  Grunge was at its peak popularity and alternative rock was thriving.  It was an exciting time for music, and in hindsight, it’s certainly understandable how 40oz to Freedom went under most people’s radar.  This was, after all, a ska/reggae/punk-rock/rap album full of several cover songs and a fair amount of raunchy material, so the fact that it did not receive any radio/mainstream attention is not all that surprising.   

In essence, this is a party album, an album that celebrates sex, drugs, reggae and punk-rock in a uniquely So-Cal/white-trash sort of way.  And I say white-trash affectionately, as it’s hard (for me anyway) not to relate to lead singer Bradley Nowell’s soulful and amusing tales of cheating girlfriends, shady friends, hard-partying nights, and the associated dance with drugs and alcohol that goes along with that lifestyle.

But this album is also about love.  That’s the predominate vibe here (besides partying): love.  This theme comes not only from Bradley’s fun-loving and warm persona, but from the music itself, which is equally sunny and frivolous in nature.  This can largely be attributed to the reggae inflections that dominate the album, conjuring up images of warm, sun-drenched So-Cal beaches, surf, and babes. 

But while this album certainly has a fun, laid-back vibe, the gritty and rauchy subject matter of the songs makes this record far from poppy.  As mentioned before, there’s a lot more going on here than danceable, rock-infused reggee, its reggae driven by the infectious grooves of hip-hop and spiked with a healthy dose of punk-rock.  It’s hard not to move your ass to this music, either via shaking it to the beat, or thrashing it to the rock.  It’s a fun album, and it’s a raunchy/playful album too, never taking itself too seriously.  Much of the album has a tossed together feel to it, and some of the songs sound like they were cut in one take in a brief moment of drunken-fueled spontaneity. 

But that’s the beauty of this album.  It’s not particularly well crafted, it’s not epic in tone or material, but it’s catchy as hell, it rocks, it chills, it flows, and it's completely unashamed to revel in its own So-Cal/fratboy-esque vibe for the sole sake of having a good time and enjoying life. 

Even some of the weaker tracks that may initially sound like cheap filler material have their own endearing qualities.  Take "D.J.S." for example, which starts out like a parody of a throw-away track from an Ice Cube album, but quickly reveals the memorable and relatable chorus of "ain't nothing wrong, ain't nothing right, but still I sit and lie awake all night"

This album reflects the sounds of good friends who have been jamming together for years, who came up on Toots & The Maytals, Bad Brains, Bob Marley, 80s hip-hop, and a wide variety of other influences.  You can't help but feel that "good times" vibe from the album.

And that’s certainly good enough for me.  You either feel the love or you don’t.  You either feel the rhythm or you don’t.  You can either relate to the vibe or you can’t.

Not for the pretentious and certainly not for the up-tight, 40oz to Freedom is a beachy, yet gritty So-Cal party album with a heart and a whole lot of soul.  Sublime might have cut a more well-rounded album a few years down the road, but 40oz to Freedom captures the real, raw, edgy early essence of truly one of the best bands of the 90s, and it’s my personal favorite album from the group. 

“Laughter, it’s free, any time just call me, 439-0116 when you’re down with Sublime you get…funky fresh”  

9.6

Robbin' the Hood

Sublime

1994

On the surface, this is just kind of a mediocre mix-tape from Sublime, with only a few songs that could hold a candle to even the worst songs off of 40 Oz. to Freedom.  Haven said that, I still do really enjoy this album because it's Sublime, so even average Sublime is better than most.  This one definitely has a more hip-hop flavor to it...it's raunchy, it feels tossed off, but it's also occasionally hilarious (Raleigh), and when they hit that trademark groove now and then, it's well...sublime...

8.6

Sublime

Sublime

1996

Although I am slightly partial to 40 OZ to Freedom, it's really hard to argue that Sublime is not a better, more well-rounded album as a whole.  The great thing about 40 OZ to Freedom was just how loose, raunchy, and dub-tastic if was.  It also had a bit more of a punkish edge to it, whereas Sublime sounds almost polished by comparison. 

That's not to say there isn't a fair amount of grit and raunchiness to be found here, but the vast majority of the songs here sound more fully realized and better composed overall.  There's a fair amount of "hits" to be found here, including my favorite Sublime song of all-time in "Santeria".  "Wrong Way" is probably one of the best ska songs of all-time, and even though "What I Got" has been overplayed into oblivion, it's still impossible to deny its greatness.

But for yours truly, this album has a whole helluva lot more to offer up than just the hits.  "Garden Grove" kicks things off and sets the tone for the album with its incredibly cool as F So-Cal vibe.  Its chill personified, and has always been a favorite of mine.  "Same in the End" hits hard but is incredibly fun, and "April 29, 1992" showcases the kind of dangerous grit and street-wise vibe that was a big part of the band's sound and appeal.

Every song on here is fantastic, and they all really hit home for me on some level, but the 1-2 punch of "Jailhouse" and "Pawn Shop" has always really struck a deeply soulful cord for me.  It's no secret that Bradley was pretty strung out on heroin during the recording of this album, and these songs are coming from a deeper, more profoundly aching and soulful level as a result.  The love is literally pouring out of him on "Jailhouse".  His reminiscing paints a powerfully emotional picture of some of the happiest days of his life, and you can really feel it through the music.  It's really beautiful.  And his almost bluesy guitar playing on "Pawn Shop" has always conveyed a deeply soulful feeling in me.  It, along with "Jailhouse" are the type of songs you have to close your eyes to and really just feel them moving through you.  It's a beautiful thing.  So much love in those songs.

Such is the case with this entire album.  It's got so much love and warmth to it, but also a fair share of grit and anguish as well.  Bradley Nowell was a really beautiful human being, and he was only really getting started.  He just might have been the coolest motherfucker on the planet, and it's incredibly sad that he OD'd before he really got to enjoy the fruits of his labor and passion, which was making beautiful, warm, soulful music that has been the soundtrack to some of the happiest times in my life.  Sublime never fails to lift my spirits and put a smile on my face, and I think that is probably the highest compliment I could pay to a band.

R.I.P. Bradley.

9.6

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