48. 40oz. to Freedom

40oz. to FreedomSublime (1992)

How: Waaaay back in high school, I would go to McDonalds on Fridays and get Bic Macs with my bud Seanny Mac. One Friday we found ourselves watching old videos of the ska band Fishbone and discussing American and British reappropriation of Jamaican sounds. “Sublime is the exception,” Seanny Mac said, explaining his opposition to white reggae, vested in a white Sublime t-shirt with the cover of 40oz. to Freedom emblazoned across his chest. I nodded in agreement, describing my favorite cuts from their eponymous third album that made the band a national sensation and lead singer Bradley Nowell a punk martyr. Seanny Man shook his head.

“No no, you should listen to their first album, it’s much better,” he told me. I didn’t believe him. Half the songs on Sublime continue to receive heavy airplay nearly two decades later on Southern California alternative rock radio, while 40oz. to Freedom boasts only one strong single, “Badfish,” a song not nearly as beloved as the heart-wrenching “Santeria.” “Trust me,” Sean said, “everyone loves Sublime, but 40 is better.” Seanny Mac was right.

Why: When you get the chance, adjust your eyes a few centimeters upwards and study the album cover. Have you ever seen such a grimy anthropomorphic sun? It’s an unpleasant symbol of Nowell’s Long Beach: a sun-drenched ghetto paradise where addicts and punks rubbed shoulders with those with clean shoulders. It was a place where reggae, punk, rap, roots, and the Beach Boys all blared from shinny convertibles, and where one could join hand in hand with your white, black, and brown brothers and sisters and celebrate the Rodney King riots together. One could surf massive waves and overdose on heroin in the same city block, and no one batted an eyelash because Southern California in the late 80s and early 90s was one of the scariest and most fun places in the country (I assume from testimony).

Sublime and Snoop Dogg, besides sharing the same zip code, will be forever linked for introducing a novel approach to laid-back sounds. Both Snoop and Nowell acknowledged what made life difficult in Long Beach, but much like Jimmy Buffet, they told us to ignore it and enjoy the little vices, like pot, malt liquor, house parties, mosh pits, misogynist rap, and the hippies of the past. Sublime pays homage to their heroes with six (six!) covers, a rolodex of thank-yous, and a song dedicated to KRS-One. Despite their influences, they don’t hold back on original material. What kind of music do you like?

Reggae? There’s plenty. “Smoke Two Joints,” “Don’t Push,” “54/46 That’s My Number,” “Ball and Chain,” “Badfish,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” “Live at E’s,” “Right Back.”

Ska? It’s all good. “What Happened,” “New Song,” “Ebin,” “Date Rape.”

Punk? It works. “New Thrash,” “Hope,” “We’re Only Gonna Die From Our Own Arrogance.”

Rap? Sure! “DJs,” “KRS-One”

Spanish? Of course! “Chica Me Tipo.”

It’s understandable if one cannot find merit in Sublime’s shameless topics of songwriting, but it’s pretty easy to admire their courage in trying everything. And if that’s not enough, there’s always “Badfish,” the uncharacteristic mature point on a very juvenile record. Nowell sings “Ain’t got no quarrels with God…Lord knows I’m weak,” with an eerie anticipation of his own tragic death a few years later. It takes some digging, but 40oz. to Freedom is an album supported by love. More superficial is the poor, unfocused, and righteously angry youth rebellion, but it couldn’t have been possible without the love Bradley Nowell wants us to feel for ourselves and everyone around us.

Next: Turn on the Bright LightsInterpol (2002)







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