A Swan Song That Wails and Soars, *** 1/2, SUBLIME “Sublime,” Gasoline Alley/MCA

Sublime’s third album heralds the ripening of a real talent--and should elevate Brad Nowell’s recent, heroin-related death from a footnote to a significant loss for the pop world.

“Date Rape,” the ska novelty that established the Long Beach rock band commercially last year, is reduced to mere juvenilia as singer-songwriter-guitarist Nowell tries to encompass a roiling swell of contradictory feelings. At various moments, he wants to shoot and loot in response to oppressive urban neglect, drown a wrong-doing girlfriend, or just stay in bed rather than face a world full of both minor irritation and terrible suffering.

But there’s some humorous perspective as well, and in his memorably yearning vocals or crying guitar solos on such highlights as “Garden Grove,” “What I Got,” “Doin’ Time” and “Santeria,” Nowell keeps trying to grab onto a lifeline of love and idealistic aspiration.

The music is a swirl of styles, from folk-blues to hip-hop, hard-core to Hendrix, and surf to the trio’s fundamental reggae skank. Nowell’s soulful singing and strong melodies provide the unifying focus for an alternately angry, playful and lovely album that would have been deeply poignant even without his passing.



Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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