Replacing a deceased lead singer is a hugely difficult thing for any band to do. When that singer’s life and personality are so entwined within the band’s music, it’s almost impossible to bring someone new in and make it work. That hasn’t stopped Sublime trying though, nor has the threat of legal action from Bradley Nowell’s estate that forced them to swiftly change their name to Sublime With Rome, and after a successful tour, they’ve just released their first album with Rome Ramirez.
Yours Truly is essentially the follow-up to 1996’s Sublime, released just after Nowell’s death, and was the album that (too late) proved to be their breakthrough. It was produced by Paul Leary from Butthole Surfers and SWR have wisely got him back on board to help provide some continuity despite the 15 year gap and change in vocalist. Of course, having one of the best rhythm sections in rock music helps convince you very early on that this really is a new Sublime album, whatever it says on the front.
One thing you can’t get away from is the lack of Bradley, whose absence leaves a huge hole in the band. That isn’t a criticism of Rome at all, because he could never be Brad and doesn’t try. Hearing a Sublime album with no mentions of Lou-Dog (also RIP) or tweaker pads is certainly an odd experience, because Brad’s life was all over the lyrics of Sublime songs. To a slightly lesser extent, Rome’s life is all over the new ones and that is the main difference between the two versions of the band.
Brad Nowell was a hugely talented but troubled guy, and his troubles were as much a part of Sublime as the similarly-doomed Layne Staley and Alice In Chains. It’s a simplification and a bit of a guess really, but Rome Ramirez seems much happier with his lot and much more at peace with himself and his surroundings, and that gives Yours Truly a very different feel. It’s a lot less gritty and there’s nothing as bleak as Pool Shark on here. Does that make it less interesting? Possibly, but, it’s much healthier.
Enough about the past then, what is Yours Truly actually like? It’s really very good, that’s the excellent news. Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson chose an ideal new singer to match their own talents, and Rome’s vocals smoothly fit into the unique meld of punk rock, reggae, ska and hip-hop that Sublime established for themselves back in the 90s. Singles Panic and Lovers Rock are instant classics, while rapper Wiz Khalifa’s guest appearance on Can You Feel It is wonderfully old school.
Rome’s personality comes into its own in the second half of the album, slowing down the pace a little, particularly after the fiery Paper Cuts. Some fans might object to a slightly smoother edge to songs like Take It Or Leave It, but I think they work just fine. In that sense, Yours Truly does exactly what it needs to do, linking to the past and setting up a future for a band who are here for more than just nostalgia tours. Sublime With Rome aren’t quite Sublime, and Rome isn’t quite Brad, but there’s nothing wrong with that and this is a great start for them. Hopefully they’ll be given the chance to grow.