Review Summary: Bless their wicked hearts
It's nigh impossible to replace legends. Try having Nirvana without Kurt Cobain, The Beatles without Lennon/McCartney, Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant, and so on. But Sublime With Rome
have honestly been less about replacing deceased original singer Bradley Nowell and more about honoring Brad's legacy with Rome Ramirez. To their credit, Yours Truly
aren't that bad, but they've played it too safe for the past 10 years, something that Nowell likely would be against. But shockingly, despite Blessings
generally pulling the same old stops for an SWR album for the first half, it actually shows sparks of outside influence, a willingness by the band to try something different, and they start getting crazy in the second half.
Out of the gate, the opener and title track provide us with the chill ska-punk that Sublime is known for, but it keeps from being stale because they actually sound rejuvenated. Bar "Light On", the album actually manages to remain pretty decent for the first half—"Blackout" provides surprisingly well-executed trap influence, while lead single "Wicked Heart" provides a catchy melody and chorus with energy that honestly hasn't been seen since Yours Truly
. "Spiderweb" and "May Day" finally
bring out the hip hop influences that have been generally relegated to minimal background elements for most of the band's career, "One Day At A Time" contains fantastic vocal interchange between Rome Ramirez and guest singer Eddie Zuko, and "Thank U" is perhaps the biggest surprise in the form of a minimalist hip-hop
song. The standouts tend to be in the second half of the album (tracks 6-12), while the first half tends to stick to their initial style—but it's a half and half deal that surprisingly manages to work because the transition is done very well.
Rome Ramirez's vocals have dramatically improved, and he actually appears to have increased in range quite a bit, which is another very welcome addition. Eric Wilson's bass playing hasn't been this good in years, while new drummer Carlos Verdugo forgoes being a cheap replica of previous drummers Bud Gaugh and Josh Freese and instead establishes himself as his own man. The instrumental work has taken an improvement as well; Wilson seems to be getting tired of churning out the same old stuff, while Verdugo shows rare flashes of progressive drumming. It's a rejuvenated, re-energized Sublime With Rome, and it's the closest they've ever gotten to the greatness of the original band. If anything is an issue here, it's the lyrics. Most of the time, they're honestly not that bad, but you get the occassional flash of garbage writing such as "I want nights where it feels so nice / Something a little photo / Right now, right now, right now / Let's do this right / Go slow while the moonlight is still shining". Fortunately, however, these moments are few and far between, and Rome generally shows flashes of improvement and brilliance above the "good, but not great" type of most of the lyrics.
Being that Rob Cavallo is at the producer's chair, the production on Blessings
is one of the album's best assets; everything is clean and polished, and the mixing in particular actually might be some of the best mixing jobs done this year; all the instruments get a chance to shine, the title track and "Wicked Heart" in particular being the best examples. While it isn't a grand re-invention of rock mixing as we know it, it's a very welcome step up from the genericness of Sirens
. Sublime With Rome have pulled out an album none of us knew they were capable of putting out. They've started to show that just like the original band, they can be capable of being a driving force in the evolution of ska punk. While they may shoot themselves in the foot at times, and while it might not be the album that cements SWR as being just as good as Brad-fronted Sublime (something they likely won't ever reach), the best I can say is something rather daring and brave—Brad would be proud.