Words By: Gerrod Harris
Release Date: July 17th, 2015 via Fueled By Ramen
Although Sublime is not a new band, they came to what seemed to be a near complete hiatus with the death of founding member, Bradley Nowell. Reforming in the late 2000’s with Rome Ramirez replacing Nowell as the bands front man and guitarist, Sublime began to go as Sublime With Rome with their release of Yours Truly in 2011. Their new record, Sirens, is also the first Sublime album without original drummer, Bud Gaugh, who departed the band by choice in 2011 and was replaced by the legendary Josh Freese, leaving bassist Eric Wilson as the only remaining original member.
The title track opens the album; however, it is nothing to write home about. “Sirens” does not feel like a Sublime song, with Rome or not. It sounds more like a pop song, trading the punk and ska influences for a pop anthem for the summer. It does not feel like a strong opening track, let alone one which the record is named after. The second single, “Wherever You Go” continues this newer pop flavor, but reintroduced the trends associated with the band, including an interesting bridge section with Freese’s drums pushing the section forward through unified shots and a very clean, mellow guitar part weaving between the shots and the chord progression. Unsurprising to any drummer, but Freese’s drumming is one of the best parts of the record. His ability to make whatever he plays sound so tasteful and groovy is inspirational. Some of his best work on Sirens is on the funky tango-like “Brazillia” and the various grooves played across “Promise Land Dub” where he frequently shifts the feel of the song by changing the beat around, lays down some unique fills, and even intentionally plays very disjointed parts which go against the flow of the rest of the band, yet he continues to hold everything together.
It is difficult to look at Sublime With Rome without comparing them to their original lineup. One element which made Sublime so unique was the way they seamlessly blended punk rock with reggae and ska music with such character that even when they made mistakes, it was seen as part of their charm. Sublime With Rome seem to struggle with mixing the different styles together. Most of the songs take on a stronger pop flavour, and the only rock inspired songs, “Best Of Me”, “Put Your Weapons Down”, “Run And Hide”, and “Skankin”, share little of the said pop textures. On top of that, rather than these four songs be spread throughout the album, they are grouped together towards the end of the album. This is certainly the best section of Sirens, but I think my opinion of the album as a whole would have benefited if these songs were better integrated throughout the record. Sometimes the track listing can be the real killer. “Best Of Me” and “Run And Hide” are both punk thrash inspired with dominant power chords. “Run And Hide” and “Skankin” are as close to old school Sublime as Sirens gets. Both songs have one foot in the bands rock roots, while the other sits in their ska background, creating two very different songs which flawlessly blend the textures and techniques of the two styles.
Unfortunately, it seems most of the songs lean closer to the title track, “Sirens”, than anything else. For starters, there is only one blisteringly fast song and the punk element almost completely removed, with the exception of the songs discussed in the previous paragraph. It is even hard to call it a ska record as there is a distinct absence of horns of any sort except for a trombone solo on “Gasoline”. Although the reggae influence is still present, most often in the soft guitar tone and off beat strumming patterns, Sirens is more of a pop album than anything. Ramirez has a smooth voice, and by traditional standards, a better voice than Nowell, but his frequent desire to use auto tune takes away from his own ability. There are some excellent songs on Sirens; “Brazillia”, “Promise Land Dub”, “Put Down Your Weapons” and “Shaking” stand out among a record of forgettable pop tunes and a poor track listing order. It is clear that while building off of their original legacy, Sublime With Rome are trying to carve their own musical direction; however it would best serve the band to pick one direction, instead of splitting their songs in two groups which don’t seem to fit: the pop and the ska/punk/rock.
1: Sirens (Featuring The Dirty Heads)
2: Wherever You Go
4: House Party
5: Been Losing Sleep
6: Promise Land Dub
7: Best Of Me
8: Put Down Your Weapons
9: Run And Hide