- - Monday, July 11, 2011

Yours Truly

Sublime

Fueled By Ramen

Seattle may have gotten all the love, but it wasn’t the only epicenter of music culture in the early ‘90s. Southern California, with its beaches and perpetually sunny weather, also churned out its own share of artists, from hip-hop heavyweights like Snoop Dogg to ska revivalists such as No Doubt and Sublime.

Seattle’s steady flow of grunge bands certainly dominated the radio airwaves, but their songs were almost unanimously gloomy, which helped California groups appeal to anyone looking for a little more sunshine in their lives.

While No Doubt enjoyed a long career, Sublime’s time in the spotlight was brief. Shortly after finishing his band’s major-label debut, frontman Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose. Sublime was effectively over, but the album was released anyway, becoming a blockbuster hit in the process. More than 5 million people purchased it in America alone, showing their support for a band that had all but ceased to exist.

Fifteen years later, Sublime is back with a new singer and a modified name, Sublime with Rome. Rome is Mr. Nowell’s 23-year-old replacement, a North California native with a reggae-influenced guitar technique and punky, soulful voice that closely resembles his predecessor. That’s surely why he got the job, and it’s both the best and worst part about “Yours Truly,” the band’s new release.

To put it bluntly, Sublime with Rome is essentially a carbon copy of Sublime with Mr. Nowell, updated with slightly more studio gloss and fewer references to illegal substances. Drugs were Mr. Nowell’s muse, not to mention his downfall, and Rome wisely steers clear of the pitfalls that brought an untimely end to the group’s original incarnation.

There’s a stronger emphasis on laid-back reggae this time around, a style of music that better suits the musicians’ ages (Rome may be 23, but Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh are both in their early 40s) than the punk songs that peppered Sublime’s early releases.

Rome may be doing a modified impression of Mr. Nowell, but he still sounds like the focal point of the group, not a grafted-on addition. Those who want every version of Sublime to sound like the first version of Sublime will be the album’s biggest fans, since it’s as capable an album as anything the group ever released. Others may consider “Yours Truly” a cheap imitation, a wannabe comeback album that replaces the heart and soul of Sublime’s classic lineup with a singer who wasn’t born until one month before the band’s first gig.

Divorce “Yours Truly” of its conflict-ridden context, though, and you’re left with a collection of songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on this summer’s Warped Tour. Not bad for a new band … or one that’s making a return after 15 years.

 

Backstreet Boy goes solo

Sublime isn’t the only band bridging the gap between its mid-‘90s heyday and today. The Backstreet Boys, currently on tour with New Kids on the Block, will wrap up their North American trek later this year, allowing member Howie D. to release his first solo record.

Apart from Kevin Richardson, who left the group in June 2006, Howie D. is the last Backstreet Boy to launch a solo career. Nick Carter’s “Now or Never” went gold in 2002, back when the Backstreet Boys still ruled the airwaves, and Brian Littrell’s “Welcome Home” became a contemporary Christian smash in 2006, sending four songs to the upper reaches of the Christian charts.

“Back to Me” is expected to hit stores in November, although Howie D. has yet to find a label for its release.

 

Gavin Rossdale resurrects Bush

Also releasing an album this fall is Bush, the veteran grunge act whose last record, “Golden State,” appeared in 2001. Singer Gavin Rossdale mounted a solo career in the interim and formed another hard rock act, Institute, whose 2005 album attracted only a smidgen of the attention lavished upon Bush’s first three releases.

Not totally convinced that Mr. Rossdale, now in his mid-40s, can summon up the sultry, grungy appeal that made his band one of 1995’s most popular acts? See for yourself on July 21, when the band performs its newest single, “The Sound of Winter,” on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show.

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