The Black Velvet Underground.
Purchase this album: Amazon
THE SCENE: In the list of unsung musical acts that influenced thousands of popular bands, hardcore pioneers Bad Brains stands alone. Surf the radio for any alternative rock station (KoRN, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, 311) college music station (Henry Rollins, Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine) or Top 40 station (U2, Madonna, Living Colour) and you’ll find an act that has admitted to biting the Bad Brains style.
Their music was either blisteringly fast punk or extremely relaxed reggae, but in 1986 they unified their approach with the landmark I Against I. Simply recorded but sophisticatedly performed, they wrapped blues, jazz and metal around staccato clusters of Jamaican and African polyrhythms and forged a primal and catchy classic.
Using nothing but guitar, bass and drums and throat they conjured the melodic prog-reggae thrash of “Re-Ignition” and the cosmic starkness of “Secret 77”.
Singer HR comes across a man possessed as he croons, raps and howls in the hardcore operetta “I Against I” while also singing sweetly (if incongruously) in the shifty crime saga of “Hired Gun”:
Please sit down, services rendered
Now we must decide the pay
Bargains to bribes, broken agreement
So much more had but to pray
Next a scam to execute, but a bit too cute
So if you’re looking for adventure
Go check the hired gun for sale
Musically a showcase for guitarist Dr. Know’s uncanny fretwork “She’s Calling You” is an explosion of chunky rhythms, tendril melodies, and muscular shredding.
If anything would move an all-black punk band out of the hardcore ghetto, this album was it.
THE FALLOUT: Critics and musicians fell all over themselves with love, but I Against I did not escalate Bad Brains into the mainstream. On the other hand, when your fans sell half a billion records while keeping your name alive, I guess that counts for something.
I Against I is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:
An unexpected masterwork from an unexpected band, I Against I shockingly sounds as fresh as this morning’s news, and way more rewarding.
See you next Wednesday.
NEXT WEEK: James Brown puts the big hurt on Bing Crosby.