Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
Reggae has always been something of an oddity to me. No one is shredding. The lyrics are typically half-baked manifestos about standing up to the man and fighting to legalize “it.” Everyone has dreadlocks. Maybe I don’t own enough Billabong tank tops to understand.
I’ve never been one to write off an entire genre, so I gave Bright Side of Life (Controlled Substance Sound Labs) a listen and moved one step closer to writing off the whole musical form. The aforementioned trademarks are all present with slight variations.
Eric Rachmany, Rory Carey, Wesley Finley and Marley (gasp, this guy was destined to play reggae) Williams comprise the band, which kicks off the album with the so-so track “Bright Side of Life.”
If there is one thing to be said for this band, it’s that they don’t let the crappy state of the world bring them down. On the album’s opener, Rachmany urges listeners to “look on the bright side of life.” They aren’t going to score points for creativity, but there’s something to be said for “stayin’ posi.”
In addition to tired clichés, the band employs a horn section to fill out their arrangements and at times gives the album a ska feel. I’ll admit, I skanked for a split second.
Imagine if the RX Bandits opted to cut off guitarist Steve Choi’s right hand while simultaneously making the decision to start making very boring, safe music.
The album’s high point comes in the latter track “Bump.” The song features what sounds like the exact same guitar riff used in the previous seven tracks until about halfway through when Rachmany decides he’s bored and actually whips out some pretty good riffage that would make Omar Rodriguez-Lopez proud. It’s refreshing to hear the band meander from the beaten path, but the moment is fleeting.
Immediately following “Bump” is the terribly bland “Lazy Afternoon,” whose title may or may not be a description of how the band was feeling the day they wrote the song.
While Rebelution was gaining fans and slugging it out in the SoCal music scene, it was not unusual for their shows’ attendance to number into the thousands. The production on Bright Side of Life attempts to recreate this large setting and does so fairly well. Reverb gets thrown onto tracks like ugly sauce on one of Ron Howard’s family reunions and you can almost see the clouds of smoke erupting from the crowd like hundreds of little stoner volcanos.
While the lyrical message is often insightful like on “Change the System,” where Rachmany contemplates the issue of gun control, they are more often awkward and clunky. On the album’s closer, “Wake Up Call,” Rachmany emotes about a place “where people treat you like a human being/Free from racism and other things.” That’s a running theme throughout this album. No, no, not fighting racism and injustice (ok, yeah, actually that’s a pretty big part of it) but lyrics that sound like they could have been written in an eighth grader’s “Deep Thoughts” journal right next to a caricature of their fourth-period English teacher.
To illustrate, here’s an example I came up with:
- I listened to Rebelution again and again
- It’s just okay but it’s not a win
- In fact, I think it might be a lose
- It made me want to hit the snooze
Red River rating: 3 out of 10