One thing that I have been intending to do for like the past four years or so is write record reviews for the Fort Worth Weekly, which is Cowtown's oft-maligned alt-rag. It required that I submit a writing sample, and after long last, I finally sent one in. Look for links to my reviews in the next few weeks. Until then, here's what I sent in. It's a review of the Sublime Tribute Album that came out in, um, August. Anyway, since it probably won't get printed, I've posted it down below.
Tribute albums are born of a superfan’s reverence for his favorite band, compromised by some other people who want to cash in on a defunct artist’s legacy. Their success hinges upon the artists selected to cover the songs and whether or not their versions make them any more interesting, which usually dooms them to glaring inconsistency. Thus, a tribute album is almost always a hit-or-miss affair; running all over the map is part of its record DNA. Yet, for a band like Sublime, you’d think that this hodgepodge-selector approach would work in its favor. It doesn’t. On Look at All the Love We’ve Found: A Tribute to Sublime, nurture beats nature, and what should have sounded organic often comes out clunky and contrived.
The songs on Look at All the Love are an even sampling from Sublime’s three studio albums, performed by bands that shared the same L.A./O.C. ska-punk scene, sandwiched between Myspace neighbors like G. Love. In other words, if you don’t get what Fishbone is doing with “Date Rape,” you can always put Jack Johnson’s breezy medley of Badfish/Boss DJ on repeat.
Where the album really shines is in the songs most likely to be skipped by the people looking for “Wrong Way” retreads. Camper Van Beethoven’s version of “Garden Grove” is dub made for a Jim Henson film about barrio life. Mike Watt and Petra Hayden take the stoned lo-fi of “Work that We Do” and boil it into a feverish absinthe hallucination, and Awol One and Abstract Rude turn “Ruca” into a greasy electro trip back to 1981.
Unfortunately, a big chunk of this album doesn’t do Sublime any favors. “Doin’ Time” gets deflated into busy acid jazz by The Greyboy All-stars, blanching what was a smoky summer anthem into jam-band elevator music, and while the countrified dub of Bargain Music is earnest and heartfelt on “Get Out,” it comes across a little too hammy and a lot too Kid Rockish.
As a band, Sublime were frequently uneven. From their sometimes electrifying, sometimes disastrous live shows to Bradley Nowell’s failed attempts to kick heroin, they were off as often as they were on. When they were on, they effortlessly replicated a 24/7 punk rock party on wax, wrapping SoCal’s sunny seediness in bouncy hooks and inescapable grooves; when they were off, they really sucked. In that regard, it’s almost fitting that a Sublime tribute would get cut from the same pattern.