May 28, 2019 Sublime with Rome – Blessings (Album Review)
Sublime with Rome is a musical collaboration between Eric Wilson, formerly of the American Ska Punk band Sublime, and Singer and Guitarist Rome Ramirez, and has been going strong now for 10 years. Touring, and having put out two albums to date, on May 31st they will drop their third album, Blessings.
A follow-up to 2015’s Sirens, and first album with 5 Music/RED Music, Blessings will probably go down as the best Reggae/Ska/Punk album of the year, and most certainly the band’s best album to date. In fact, the trio have fully embraced their commercial potential, and in doing so, have created a genre masterpiece that will assuredly land them the most airtime in their 10-year, post-Bradley Nowell (R.I.P.) career. Feel that is a bold statement? Read on and see why…
Eleven songs in total, the title-track kicks things off in creative fashion with Ramirez delivering some smooth vocals over a music-box. If you did not know any better, you may first mistake his voice for that of Fallout Boy’s Patrick Stump, which is indicative of the band’s willingness to go all-in on embracing their Pop potential. In true Sublime with Rome fashion, the lyrics deal with life’s harsh realities being mitigated by a personal philosophy of trusting that the universe has your back. “They try to kill us in the streets/ Oh, Lord, put your blessings over me” Rome sings with a simple, yet catchy-as-all-hell melody. There is a reason this is the eponymous track.
Up until recently, however, “Light On” was scheduled to be the name of the album, and it too is easy to see why. After opening with a gorgeous acoustic guitar riff, Rome laments about the price of stardom and the value of having family and friends whose love and care transcends physical distance. While Bradley may have used his raw voice to tells stories about some hard-to-digest subjects, Rome uses his beautiful voice to sing about near-universal experiences. The masses will love it, and rightfully so. Next is “Wildfire,” which combines the organ/synth/piano with the Reggae guitar to give that retro feel the band was known for. A familiar topic (guns) adds to the nostalgia, and at 2:28, is a nice, quick tune that does not lose any of the momentum from the previous tracks.
Moving on, “Spiderweb” again taps into the band’s heralded life views. “Ego is a motherfucker and liquor makes me vicious,” Rome tells the listener, a sentiment most have surely shared at one point or another. Tropical drums and horns add some Ska spice, and the lyrics offer some fatherly insight into parental shortcomings. The band is growing up, and this song is proof of it. Then there is “Blackout,” and at 3:43, is the album’s longest. It is slow-paced and mellow, and seems to embody the idea of the Dark Night of the Soul. “I don’t take Xanax but I drink just like I hate myself,” our narrators sings. It is also notable for being the only track that uses auto-tune, which is a welcome addition to the band’s arsenal. This could easily appear on the charts as a single, yet again proving the band’s propensity for Pop-stardom.
Then comes “Wicked Heart,” one of the few tracks to already have a YouTube video. It is clear that the band thinks this has single potential, and they are not wrong. After starting with lyrics that serve as a bridge from the last song, we are treated to the album’s first love song. In true Sublime fashion, the relationship is not healthy, but our main character is willing to endure it anyway. Followed by “Survive,” which is full of echoes and reverb, it is pure modern Reggae. The inventive vocal melodies are accented by horns, and for a moment, it feels like the original Sublime is back. Nowhere else on the album is the guitar more prominent, and the spacey atmosphere continues to diversify the band’s sound.
Another stand-out is “May Day,” which starts out with a Spaghetti Western-like guitar, and for the remainder of the cut serves as every drug dealer’s anthem: “Don’t you smoke up all my weed and then tell me what I need.” This is before “Sirens,” (oddly enough, also the name of their last album), jumps right into the vocals, which are at their poppiest yet. The Reggae organ returns and some guest vocals add some nice contrast, as do the choral vocals at the end. Lyrically, the track reaffirms Rome’s love for seemingly shitty relationships.
Keeping the album interesting, “Thank U” is the most unique offering in the entire history of the band, with or without Rome. It begins with nothing but a voice, a beat, and a minimal bass. It is damn-near Post Rock in its execution, which makes for a pleasant surprise and bold penultimate track. It is stripped down and intimate as well as builds toward a more complex ending. Hopefully the band’s next outing explores this area more. Rome sounds a lot like Trent Reznor here, which adds to the fascination. Finally, rounding out the album is “For the Night” with a surf guitar establishing a light mood, as Rome says, “I’d go to war for ya, straight up go poor for ya,” to the presumed love of his life, yet again establishing his willingness to do anything for those he cares about.
In truth, there is not a single low point on the album. It is a brisk, fun listening experience populated with future radio hits and a new sound that respects what came before it while offering the band a chance to go to the next level. Hence exactly why Cryptic Rock gives Blessings 5 out of 5 stars.