In defense of Sublime

Categories: Justify My Love

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I thought I would have to wait until the 20th anniversary of Sublime's 1996 self-titled mainstream breakout album to write about how fundamentally misunderstood and judged Sublime is. I have so many feelings, too many probably, about a band whose legacy is beaten up almost as much as Insane Clown Posse's (who are possibly the most DIY music-making motherfuckers on the planet, by the way) by people who tend to lean toward the appearance-based criticism that often bashes music embraced by the working class.

But then The A.V. Club published Jonah Ray's scathing take down of "What I Got" as part of its HateSong series, and I was handed my Sublime platform.

First, I want to say that I get that HateSong as a series is supposed to be a little satirical; but in previous editions, the reasoning for not liking a song has never read like a giant misguided, misinformed anger dump on a band. Like most discussions by people who have never listened to Sublime past their handful of radio hits, this piece read like a circle jerk among music elitists. And that is boring to read. Luckily though, this circle jerk laid out all the talking points I needed to share clarity around Sublime, so here are some of the common complaints about the band and why I think they are unfounded.

Third wave ska (and anything remotely close to or related to it, like Sublime) sucks
I get it. People hate happy-sounding music (especially with horns) and anything that doesn't emphasize the backbeat in 4/4 time. But the third wave ska movement was a big and important one, ushering bands into the mainstream like the Aquabats, Reel Big Fish and of course, No Doubt, while changing the way rock radio sounded forever.

Many of the third wave success stories -- like all the bands listed above -- were also from the thriving Long Beach/Orange County scene, which also birthed, uh, Sublime. Though the core of the band didn't include a horn section, "Date Rape," one of Sublime's best known songs, did, and Brad's rampant reggae style guitar-playing will forever link them to a style of music that defined an era.

Brad Nowell was the uncool Kurt Cobain
They both came from working class backgrounds, they both were heroin users who struggled with it until death (and in Brad's case, died from it,) they both were more famous and sold more records after they were dead and they both came into the mainstream in the mid-'90s. So why does Kurt Cobain get treated like dead royalty and Brad Nowell get the bum rap of being the lesser than frat-dude version?

Their music, though both built on punk's foundation, was different. Their songs were about different experiences and different ways of living. But the nineties were, like any other times in modern music history, filled with musicians who made very dissimilar sounding music but were still marketed to the same audience. I grew up in the '90s and guess what? Nirvana and Sublime were equally and aggressively marketed toward Lollapalooza ticket-buying, disaffected suburban alt teens.

What I'm saying is, to your average sixteen-year-old music fan in 1996, Nirvana and Sublime could be enjoyed all the same. I say this as a person who was sixteen in 1996, loved both bands and saw no difference between one and the other. And though I love both of these bands with all of my heart, it does suck that they have become the classic rock of our current time and are in the annoying constant rotation of mediocre rock-ish radio stations all over America. Why this only seems to sour Sublime's legacy and not Nirvana's, I don't know -- other than the fact that people love to hate on Sublime.

I should also add that sometimes for whatever reason, Sublime lands in a listener's "guilty pleasure" category. To me, "guilty pleasure" is a just cop-out way of saying, "I am judging myself for liking the music I enjoy based on what other people think of me." Which is dumb and unrelated to the music in question. Art is art. Putting a context around what makes it cool or socially acceptable will get you no where, other than hiding in your bedroom listening to music so that no one finds out you like it/Sublime.



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40 comments
Evan Brogan
Evan Brogan

It never occured to me people don't like Sublime! My all time favorite. Perhaps because I'm of the age I am, and the people I know are. Well, if you heard one album, a trend line you have not. There's so much to choose from: " The beauty in Sublime's catalog is its variation; punk, reggae, acoustic, sample-heavy tracks -- the band had and did a little bit of everything."

Tania Snyder
Tania Snyder

Read past the ICP part...this is really a great article. You gotta read the whole thing. Such an awesome band that wore their heart and their imperfections on there sleeve. A combo if everything good. Every song holds a memory for me.

alanbootell
alanbootell

You have no fucking clue what you're talking about. FIND ANOTHER CAREER. Music journalism isn't for you.

Renee Ortiz
Renee Ortiz

I stopped reading after the props to ICP....clearly a garbage article.

Miri Ladenburger
Miri Ladenburger

Tania Snyder these douche bags don't like sublime? I thought everyone liked sublime? Only the Westword can bring you garbage "some asshole" writes about a totally biased opinion that alienates a whole group of people that really like something and try to make us all feel like nerds.

Tony Olivas
Tony Olivas

Fair argument but "what I got" still sucks ten thousand donkey dicks.

Patrick O'Smitty
Patrick O'Smitty

ill stop judging them when you stop shoving them down my throat.

Sarah Solomon
Sarah Solomon

I started to wtf at ICP and completely stopped reading at comparison of Cobain. I never met anyone my age group give or take a few who didn't know the lyrics to "What I got"! What the hell does ICP have to do with it and yes, they're garbage and anything but talent. But Nirvana? Is this writer out of their mind?? No comparison whatsoever! Booooo

Melissa Quinlan Viola
Melissa Quinlan Viola

I grew up in OC in the 90s (I was 16 in '96 too) and my life was third-wave ska - No Doubt (pre- and post-Tragic Kingdom), Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Aquabats, My Super Hero - along with SoCal punk - Pennywise, Lagwagon, Vandals, No Use for a Name, NOFX, etc, etc. Sublime managed to bridge those two worlds for me and many other OC kids. Before reading this article, it never dawned on me that Sublime was "uncool" or people hated them. Sure, they had some commercial success. But if you only know Wrong Way and Bad Fish, then you are uncool and I hate you too!

Suzanne Nobles
Suzanne Nobles

I love Sublime for many different reasons. So do most of the people I know. Ill be listening til the day I die!!

Kyle Marcarello
Kyle Marcarello

Spot on with the touch about robbin the hood. My biggest issue with sublime is that they never replicated those results in a package thay dosnt feel wholey artificial and/or stale. Perhaps everything under the sun may change that opinion.

Rodger Mathena
Rodger Mathena

Fuck that! Sublime is tha shit! Idk or have met anyone who didn't like sublime! If you hate sublime, there is something wrong with you!

Theodore Spencer Wise
Theodore Spencer Wise

To be fair, I haven't ever considered that Beyoncé might not have much traction among the backward ballcap, community college crowd. My fault, I suppose.

Jarod Reyes
Jarod Reyes

You're so fucking tight, i like beyonce too! HA

Eric Gidcumb
Eric Gidcumb

Stopped reading when you compared sublime to ICP lol

Eric Gidcumb
Eric Gidcumb

So is fake auto tuned pop rap disguised as hip hop when half these artists don't even know the 4 elements of the culture. Sorry confused kids.

Dan Vizzard
Dan Vizzard

Nice article, I'd love to see some music writer hipster tell the sublime guys that it was frat bro music for frat bros when they were all partying haha

Alysia Marie
Alysia Marie

Love Sublime, but it was not necessary to mention that "music".

Alysia Marie
Alysia Marie

Westword is really going on about icp and it's really getting out of control.

Amanda Marie England
Amanda Marie England

Denver is stuck in the 90s because if everything was right in the world it would still be the 90s. Surge 4evr!

Jon Giron
Jon Giron

Says the douche bag who has Beyoncé and Kanye West listed in his choice of music . Epic fail, sir!

Che Weller
Che Weller

I love sublime. But... going to see sublime with rome , is like being told your gonna see jesus do a sermon, and then bob nobody from south Detroit shows up in jesus' place instead. Ya dig?

Stephen Brinson
Stephen Brinson

decent article, but even compairing icp to sublime is crazy....REALLY??icp-sublime????

pyroteen23
pyroteen23

sublime is amazing,and even mentioning icp in that is crazy. ...


A hardcore sublime fan

Tanya Cavner
Tanya Cavner

Who's judging them?! They were and still are awesome!! I've loved them from day one, back in California when I got there demo on a cassette from the San Francisco under ground. THEY ROCK!! I think it's a disservice to even mention the Insane Clown Posy in the same sentence/conversation. JS.. Bradly was the shit and Rome is awesome too. I'm done ranting now just enjoy the tunes

Daviet5150
Daviet5150

Yeah I really didn't like Sublime first and even though Nirvana never wowed me I thought they were more realavant. Then I had good friend/roommate that pushed 40oz to Freedom on me day and night. It took a while but I finally came to the conclusion that Sublime was far superior and that album alone was more cohesive that all Nirvana combined.

Gerard_Portmanteau
Gerard_Portmanteau

Thank you. That Hatesong piece reminded me of every dipshit I've encountered that discovered Black Flag late and wanted a medal for it.

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