Ah, Saturdays at Pitchfork World Headquarters.
After a long week made hella’ stressful by malfunctioning Nespresso machines, board meetings to determine editorial standing on the new Father John Misty single, and coming up with review intros such as, “Kodak Black is accused of sexual assault and I just can’t”, the time comes to relax. To undo the top button on that yellow plaid, put aside the 9,487 word essay titled “Camp Cope Is Everything”, and drag up some old classics from the pre-internet era for the Fork treatment.
It never leads to any revelations. Spacemen Three was good! This noted rap classic is indeed a noted rap classic! My Bloody Valentine practiced melodic dissonance! And now, thanks to the ever-woke Evan Rytlewski, we can throw in another non-revelation: Sublime sucked!
Now, I hate Sublime just as much as the next individual who can name five dream pop bands off the dome, so it really is a testament to the awfulness of Rytlewski’s critical misfire that I find myself defending them in a roundabout way here. There are so many juicy aspects to savage when it comes to this lumbering, conch shell-sporting, Jamaican patois-dabbling, frathouse-rocking band of skanking, sunburned bros that it seems almost criminal that Rytlewski missed them. If I were on the Condé Nast editorial board and gave the go-ahead for a Pitchfork treatment on this 20-plus-year-old record, the hit list would read something like:
- How many times can a lyricist use the term “ri-ot” in any one song (lots of times when it comes to Bradley Nowell)?
- Flea would have been in this band within five seconds of “What I Got” hitting the airwaves.
- What was Sugar Ray doing at the time this record was being recorded and are they aware Sublime stole their instrumental tracks to craft it?
- Bradley Nowell did so much heroin that he truly thought shouting out Bob Marley was a rare and radical thing to do.
- Is it possible that Bradley Nowell knew what he had done? Did he envision the decades of beer pong soundtracking that lay ahead? And did he potentially take his own life to get away from it?
- The industry feeding frenzy upon his death was truly sickening.
And one admittance:
- Ok, the Grateful Dead cover is actually far better than anything on The National’s Dead tribute project. It captures the essence.
So many soft underbellies to attack with this old dinosaur. Instead, Evan Rytlewski “woke” up that morning and decided to take the most awkward, ineffective route possible: dragging a decades-old album out into the harsh light of today’s puritanical rock standards.
And he doesn’t even score many hits with this fish-in-a-barrel tactic. It must have pained Evan that the only sexist lyric he could dredge up from an hour’s worth of southern Cali bro rock was “pinchin’ girlies’ asses”. In pushing this line as the centerpiece of his review, he shines a spotlight on why the review fails. Rytlewski spends a good 80% of his column inches a long way from the real criminal element at play, which is the exceedingly bland and unconvincingly executed post-Peppers SoCo bro rock emanating from the speakers. The dudes from Sublime were not evil, and no amount of modern-day Twitter mob tsk tsk tsking from Evan Rytlewski is going to sell this theory. To paint the Sublimes as some sort of date-raping, goth-beating juggernaut of toxic masculinity is never going to feel right in your heart-of-hearts because you know that in reality they were most likely a crew of laid-back, stoned-out beach bros who loved their mommas and had their kids’ names tatted in between barbed wire bands on their arms. Much like the frat house you lived next to in college, the party noise may have been annoying but if you ever ran across one of them on the quad they were actually decent dudes who would gladly pass you a joint. The problem with Sublime was that they created head-splittingly awful music. To paint the source as evil is to take the easy way out, and the Fork went running for that easy exit from the very beginning of this review.
The shock and awe of taking an old record from its time capsule and pointing out content that was perfectly fine at the time but would be considered a no-go today is a weak trick, and Rytlewski seems to know it. His righteousness loses steam quickly, probably as the realization sets in that there isn’t too much to work with here. One wonders if he wanted to scrap the whole review at some point and instead stab the Fork from a musical angle, but the deadline was looming so he just had to go with it. If you want to point out truly misogynist lyrics from the time, take aim at Snoop and Dre or Guns. The Sublime Bros come off as staunch feminists compared to much of the popular music of the time, more reggae lovermen than 2LiveCrew decadents, and a song such as “Date Rape” is really no different from Nirvana’s “Rape Me” of the same era. Both used the “R” word in playful ways that would get them blacklisted from life in 2018, but at the time shock was still considered a “value” in rock music. Is it really fair to hold them accountable to today’s standards? If Kurt and Bradley hadn’t taken the smack road to immortality would they be coming up with these types of songs today? Most likely not, and to fail to cover just what a piss-poor, fourth-rate, basement-gig ska disaster “DR” truly is, Rytlewski misses out on some golden critical material.
Less than halfway through the review Rytlewski’s outrage meter seems to have petered out. He resorts to making fun of the band members’ body types (“burly, beer-gut ideal masculinity”). He lands soft punches like calling the band out for “the raunch, squalor, drugs, side chicks”. Um, isn’t this pretty much all bands? “It’s remarkable, then, that listeners heard so much grace in him,” he finger wags at the band’s millions of followers in willful ignorance of the centuries of graceful, sophisticated music that’s been made by individuals of less-than-stellar personal makeup. What’s truly remarkable is that those millions of followers find grace in this particular music, this clunky mishmash of half-baked genre exercises full of face-palm white boi Kingston toasting and barely thawed microwave dinner love vibes. And to predict that people will soon stop listening to this record because the dude sang about pinchin’ a few asses is one of the most ludicrous statements in a review full of ludicrous statements. Sublime will continue to be popular until the human race is wiped from God’s green Earth and will be adopted by the tribes that sprout up in its wake. I know it. You know it. And Evan Rytlewski certainly knows it.
One should hate Sublime because of their music, not because of who they were as people.