Review Summary: Bad Brains returns with an interesting, if disappointing, album, which feels like a weak attempt to return to their hardcore roots. They do however bring some strong reggae tunes to the album which almost make it worthwhile.
Bad Brains is hailed as one of the kings of hardcore punk and rightly so. The DC foursome started in 1979 as a jazz group but soon evolved to become the wildest, fastest and most violent band of the decade. After the 80s however they suffered a creative slump which led to a horrible reggae album and several short breakups.
Then in 2005 Bad Brains announced that they were going to record the first real album to come out in 10 years. The producer Adam Yauch, was a longtime fan of Bad Brains and a member of the Beastie Boys. Also Bad Brains promised a hardcore style album. So the new material promised to at least be interesting.
Interesting is probably one of the better words you could use to describe Build a Nation. A few other words would be wierd, disappointing and almost scary. The "Hardcore" tracks seem like a strange noise-rock headtrip and almost never go above mid-tempo. HR seems to have lost all the energy he possesed 20 years ago and can't seem to do the amazing things he did with his voice while he was in his prime. And Adam Yauches production tries to create a live atmosphere but for some reason adds way too much reverb to the vocals making them even more annoying than they were already.
But for all that, this album does have several bright spots that make it not worth buying but maybe worth listening to at least once. Dr. Know is still a beast with a guitar and proves it throughout this album especially on the standout Pure Love which is the closest to true hardcore this album gets. And on a few tracks such as "Let There be Angels" the new dubbed up vocals almost fit with the loud distorted guitars. Also on this disc are several very enjoyable reggae tracks. Somehow HR's new soft, melodic singing style really fits these songs.
So in the end what we get is a rather poor album that is still the best one made by Bad Brains in about 14 years. Maybe this a sign of a comeback for the kings of Hardcore. Or maybe its just a foreshadowing of more embarresments to come. Whatever you want to call it, it's the closest Bad Brains has gotten to being itself for a long time.