BAD BRAINS: ROCK FOR LIGHT (1983)
1) Coptic Times; 2) Attitude; 3) We Will Not; 4) Sailin' On; 5) Rally 'Round Jah Throne; 6) Right Brigade; 7) F.V.K.; 8) Riot Squad; 9) The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth; 10) Joshua's Song; 11) Banned In D.C.; 12) How Low Can A Punk Get; 13) Big Takeover; 14) I And I Survive; 15) Destroy Babylon; 16) Rock For Light; 17) At The Movies.
This is basically a «do-it-right-this-time» upgrade of Bad Brains. Same line-up, same style, same ideology, same technique, even a bunch of the same songs — but this time, recorded in a proper studio, released on a proper label (PVC), and produced by a guy with credentials, namely, Ric Ocasek of The Cars... Ric Ocasek???!!! ...but no, no worries, Rock For Light sounds nothing like The Cars — there isn't a synthesizer anywhere in sight, and the only rudiments of «pop hooks» are occasional melodic patterns in Dr. Know's riffs which were there all along, you just couldn't hear them too well.
Actually, if there is any substantial improvement, it mostly concerns the reggae numbers. Not coincidentally, perhaps, none of the reggae tunes from Bad Brains were chosen to be re-recorded — instead, they wrote some new ones, tighter, more focused, and more catchy than the old ones. Reggae really only amounts to something bigger than local hoodlum ganja fun when it starts hunting for that Old Testament spirit, becoming downright uplifting for some and downright scary for others. And ʽThe Meek Shall Inherit The Earthʼ, for instance, definitely has a particle of that spirit (along with some powerhouse percussion work) — H.R. sings the lyrics, for once, instead of barking or growling, and the band's beliefs and convictions come forth as credible (even if the Rastafari religion as such seems like a bunch of baloney to you — heck, it probably is baloney, but if it makes these guys' lives happier, let 'em have it, "in the way of our lord JAH!").
As for the speedy punk songs, they continue to be properly undescribable — now that the production is so much clearer, we should simply enjoy them the way they are: disjointed quanta of one big whole, brief punk blasts whose main attraction lies in their being sped up to ridiculous tempos. Play this any slower and it will be quite boring, even with the technical skills of the band members — it is not as if Dr. Know is delivering any amazing, hitherto unknown chord sequences... actually, except when he is off to churn out one more finger-flashing solo, he is not even playing it too fast: the main punch is delivered by the rhythm section.
H.R.'s ecstatic sneer on the fast punk numbers tends to be overrated by reviewers, maybe for exotic reasons — after all, you do not usually see this sort of style from black vocalists — but I really prefer what he is doing on the reggae rather than the hardcore numbers, where the tone is just a tad too hysterical to properly match the instrumental crunch. As for the Rastafari influence on the lyrics of ʽCoptic Timesʼ, ʽJoshua's Songʼ, and others, it is certainly novel, but it would be more fun to somehow manage to see a musical combination of reggae and hardcore rather than a lyrical one, and of that, the band is not capable (not that anybody could blame them — «hardcore reggae» is sort of an oxymoron, since combining pot with speed is usually not recommendable).
Overall, the only two reasons I still go with a thumbs up here are (a) the improved reggae numbers and (b) the improved production — both of which sort of permit Rock For Light to count as a successful update of the Bad Brains sound for the audiophile. However, a second (third?) album with the same sound and style would have been untenable — Bad Brains would end up mutating into somebody like Agnostic Front. To their credit, the band realized that: we may debate whether their subsequent changes were amazing or disappointing, but regardless, it is actually a good thing that they only made one Rock For Light, without dissipating its legend over the course of a thousand faceless clones.
Check "Rock For Light" (MP3) on Amazon