BAD BRAINS: BUILD A NATION (2007)
1) Give Thanks And Praises; 2) Jah People Make The World Go Round; 3) Pure Love; 4) Natty Dreadlocks 'Pon The Mountain Top; 5) Build A Nation; 6) Expand Your Soul; 7) Jah Love; 8) Let There Be Angels (Just Like You); 9) Universal Peace; 10) Roll On; 11) Until Kingdom Comes; 12) In The Beginning; 13) Send You No More Flowers; 14) Peace Be Unto Thee.
Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys produced this one, and his young grateful-apprentice influence on the old masters cannot be underestimated: Build A Nation promptly returns Bad Brains to their classic reggae-meets-hardcore formula and, for the most part, keeps them there, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, I sort of get the feeling that Yauch must have been the happiest participant of the sessions — maybe Dr. Know did not really mind being steered back to the styles that started it all, but I do not sense much enthusiasm, either.
H.R. might be the one to blame: no longer having the drive or energy to sound like the slobbering madman of old, he prefers to go for a calmer, hazy-mysticism-soaked vocal style on pretty much every song, be it fast or slow, loud or quiet, but his nasal overtones make the overall effect irritating rather than mesmerizing. On the other hand, it's not as if Dr. Know was sending him tons of freshly baked awesome riffs to undermine — as expected, no songs here suffer from excessive memorability, so to speak. If this is the best original material they could come up with in twelve years, it can only mean that they did not really bother coming up with anything — just went into the studio and bashed all of this out on the spot, with Yauch's stylistic guidance as the only point of potential attraction.
Yes, it is a «comeback» of sorts — for one thing, there are some super-fast tracks here, first time in God knows when; however, if you compare these new quickie-speedy one-minute recordings like ʽPure Loveʼ and the title track with anything from the Rock For Light era, you will see that these ones are tighter, cleaner, better structured than the exuberant noisefests of old. A professional's dream, perhaps, but the whole point of Bad Brains used to be in how anthemically mad they were — Build A Nation, in contrast, is much too calculated and stiff, a problem it certainly shares with the absolute majority of 21st century music, but that is no reason to be forgiving.
As for the reggae numbers, too much of this stuff comes in direct prayer form — the album opens with the partially acappella ʽGive Thanks And Praisesʼ, continues with ʽJah Loveʼ, and ends with ʽPeace Be Unto Theeʼ. Rasta people might, perhaps, be wooed, but none of these songs, really, is ʽMy Sweet Lordʼ-caliber: just ordinary reggae prayers for regular reggae crowds. Not even a single juicy apocalyptic ride on the waves of syncopation.
By all means, this is Bad Brains' best album since at least 1986 (not counting the surprisingly creative dub work on I & I Survived), and, if you, too, dislike the band's transition from hardcore to metal, even since Rock For Light — but this simply isn't saying much, given the generally abysmal quality of their studio stuff ever since they first asked themselves the fatal question, «what next?». An almost surefire delight for hardcore fans; a mostly predictable disappointment, I guess, for everyone else, although, out of sheer respect for the collaboration between Yauch and the old boys, it might be best to refrain from a direct thumbs down this time around. But it goes without saying that you won't ever build a nation with this brand of brickwork.