19 Years Ago: Sublime Break Through With Their Self-Titled Album
Sublime could have been one of the biggest bands in the world. They were poised for global musical domination when frontman Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose. Perhaps the saddest part is that he probably never knew just how famous his band would become: The self-titled album that would launch Sublime to super-stardom came out on July 30, 1996, just two months after Nowell passed away.
Sublime had enjoyed some success with their first album, 40 Oz. to Freedom. Over their formative years, the band developed a strong following throughout California based on their strong live performances and raucous partying. Eventually, the famous L.A. radio station KROQ began playing material from 40 Oz. to Freedom, spreading the good word to a greater area.
Their follow-up, Robbin' the Hood, a collection of mostly lo-fi four-track recordings, gained the attention of some record executives, and Sublime eventually signed with MCA Records.
Sublime packed up and relocated to Austin, Texas, to record Sublime. They went into the studio with producers David Kahne and Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, and the recording sessions, which included lots of partying and drugs, lasted for three months.
Despite Nowell's death and the subsequent dissolution of the band, Sublime proved to be a huge success across the country. Many people welcomed a change from the grunge movement of the time, which many considered to be going stale by '96.
Sublime was one of those unique mixtures of musical genres that, on paper, might cause fans to raise a skeptical eyebrow. Mixing punk rock, reggae, ska and pop music together sounds more like a recipe for disaster than anything else, but in this case, it worked. The album's lead single, "What I Got," was an instant hit:
The album's second single, "Santeria," was also a smash, despite the lack of any song like it on the radio at the time:
"Wrong Way" was more of the same, with its raunchy lyrics and upbeat syncopated rhythm. For better or worse, depending on who you ask, songs like this helped bring about what's known as the third wave of ska into the mainstream:
Sublime was heavily influenced by a number of musical acts, and Nowell, the primary songwriter, wasn't bashful about letting those influences shine through. Many of the songs borrowed parts from other tracks, and the record contains more than a few covers. But Sublime were never content with doing straight covers of songs, opting instead to rework them into something completely new. They'd often combine their reinterpretations into one song, such as in "Jailhouse":
Despite the fact that there was no band to tour or promote the album, Sublime appeared on Billboard's Top 20 albums less than a year after its release. It stayed on the Billboard Top 200 chart for 107 weeks, and has sold more than 5 million copies.
Although Sublime was the band's last original album, other discs followed, containing mostly demo recordings and remixes. These days, the remaining members of Sublime tour with an additional member under the name Sublime With Rome.
There is no way to judge how much influence Sublime would have had on the music world if Nowell had survived and managed to clean up his act. But we still have the music he left behind, and it holds up surprisingly well today.