BAD BRAINS: I AGAINST I (1986)
1) Intro; 2) I Against I; 3) House Of Suffering; 4) Re-Ignition; 5) Secret 77; 6) Let Me Help; 7) She's Calling You; 8) Sacred Love; 9) Hired Gun; 10) Return To Heaven.
While it may be a good thing that Bad Brains' second «properly» recorded album does not have it in mind to repeat the formula of Rock For Light — after all, the best hardcore bands are those with just one hardcore album, «THAT» album — I absolutely fail to see the reasons why this follow-up gets its near-immaculate critical reputation. It was the band's best-selling album, for sure, but this is hardly a point worth noting when one is, essentially, dealing with a cult underground act for which a few thousand sold copies is already an «achievement». Must be the lyrical impact, as usual — Rastafari lyrics are always in high demand on the critical market.
The speed, with a couple exceptions, is gone, and with it, the one reason to keep a Bad Brains album going regardless of individual song quality. In its place, the band introduces relative diversity — as long as the guitar tones remain dark and crunchy, they can play «slow tempo punk», heavy metal, or funkified post-New Wave rock, with the minimum goal of not boring their listener to death and the maximum goal of achieving some sort of synthesis between all these things and their jazz-fusion pedigree. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Problem is, I Against I is still boring, and the synthesis does not produce decent results. For instance, the chief metal inspiration for the band does not seem to be either the old school Sabbath or the new school Metallica — some of this stuff sounds dangerously close to the inoffensive, pop-oriented «hair metal» schlock o' the day. ʽSacred Loveʼ, with its Rambo-style power chords and syncopated echoey riffage, epitomizes pseudo-toughness, and H.R.'s megaphone-processed vocals lose any sort of mystery they could have possessed against this stiff background. ʽShe's Calling Youʼ could just as well have been recorded for Alice Cooper's Constrictor from the same year (except that Alice's stuff was at least catchy, whereas this song has no vocal hooks whatsoever, and its chief melodic guitar riff is hopelessly damaged by the «muscular» effects on the recording). And ʽHouse Of Sufferingʼ is notable only for making a reference to «Jah love» within the frames of a song that, melodically, owes much more to Sabbath's ʽSymptom Of The Universeʼ than to anything ever associated with Bob Marley. And it is pretty fast, for once.
The album's more traditionally oriented punk material (ʽLet Me Helpʼ) rolls along on autopilot, and the «funky» stuff (ʽSecret 77ʼ, ʽHired Gunʼ) is sheer atmosphere. At this point, in fact, H.R. seems to be the only band member who is genuinely excited about what they are doing — his street poetry is intended for rabble-rousing, and his psychologically thought-out choruses ("hired gun / he's on the run / better watch out, boy / cause he don't know fun") certainly have their appeal for those in the know. But if you have trouble with your English, or if you have trouble accepting this stuff as something that goes beyond «trite», I have no idea whatsoever what it is about I Against I that should be supposed to make it a good album, let alone a «classic».
Because this time around, it is impossible to just applaud the results as a «megablast of energy with a strong social undercurrent» or something like that. That «megablast», for Bad Brains, was Rock For Light (or the eponymous album if you prefer your megablasts with a wallop of shitty production on the side). This stuff aspires to something beyond kicking the old, wrinkled, but still durable ass of the Establishment: it obviously has some «pure» musical ambitions as well — but all I can hear is a bunch of dudes learning to succeed in the fields of New Wave and heavy metal, and failing in the attempt. This ain't nowhere near the Cure if you want intellectual, meticulously «researched» musical textures, and it ain't nowhere near Metallica if you want headbanging crunch. Thumbs down — try it out if you really want to, but don't buy the hype.
Check "I Against I" (MP3) on Amazon