Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bad Brains - "Re-Ignition"

If I could go back in time and see a vintage gig by any band whose peak occurred before I was old enough to go see shows, I'd pick the Bad Brains. Without needing so much as a moment to think about it. Their recorded legacy is frustratingly inconsistent, they shot themselves in the collective foot repeatedly throughout their career, and alienated almost everyone who ever helped or supported them. Despite this, when they were on they were, reportedly, really on. In Steven Blush's American Hardcore, everyone, and I mean everyone, interviewed for the book who saw the Brains on a good night recalls it as the best show they ever saw. Not one of the best, the best.

What was it about them that set them apart so completely from the competition? We can study the live albums and recent DVD, but anybody knows a recording can only capture so much of a great performance. Theory: coming from a jazz background, the Brains were head and shoulders above any other hardcore band as players; a tighter show is almost always a better show. That, along with one of the era's most iconic frontmen, put them over the top. But I'll never know for sure.

Recorded after several false starts, temporary breakups and legal troubles (legend has it H.R. recorded lead vocals for one track over the phone from jail), 1986's I Against I was something of a minor miracle. No one in their right mind close to the band from about 1984 on expected them to make another decent album, let alone a great one. I is not just a great album, it's groundbreaking. Rather than sticking with their old formula or busting out the interminable dub reggae jams that characterised many of their more ganja-soaked shows at the time, the Brains gave us one of the era's turning points in the breakdown of the barrier between hardcore and metal. The tempos are slower, the arrangements abrupt, the guitar lines sharp and bracing. The production's a little dated (What was it about the 80s that made people think that much reverb on the snare sounded good?), but it's still sounds pretty brutal. I picked this cut for no better reason than Goldie sampled it ("Temper, Temper", 1998); every track on the album is pretty equally killer.

Picked this up, believe it or not, brand new for ten bucks at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square just a couple months ago. I was there buying something else, spotted this one and decided on a whim to fill a long-standing hole in the collection. God bless SST.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Bad Brains - "Re-Ignition"

NOTE: This album is available on CD and vinyl from SST's online store, but when I tried to search for them I got a database error, so I posted the Amazon and GEMM links instead.

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