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Bad Brains - Bad Brains LP / CD / CS

Bad Brains - Bad Brains LP / CD / CS

ORG Music / Bad Brains Records

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More than one writer has called the Bad Brains' incendiary 1982 debut the definitive hardcore album, which certainly testifies to its strengths while also overlooking how different the group was from the other bands on the nascent hardcore punk scene, as well as those who followed. As powerful and exciting as hardcore could be, many of the key groups in its first wave were made up of young players who embraced speed and impact because they lacked the experience or skill to give their performances nuance. Bad Brains, on the other hand, were mature musicians who had the chops and the imagination to play whatever they wanted; fast and loud wasn't the only option open to them, which is why they could use it as a tool rather than a blunt instrument. Dr. Know's guitar work showed a deep knowledge of hard rock riffage when he dropped a concise solo into the maelstrom of one of their songs, while bassist Darryl Jennifer and drummer Earl Hudson could actually groove in fifth gear, lacking the stiffness that was the curse of too many punk bands trying to break the sound barrier. Like most hardcore acts, Bad Brains sang at length about the injustices and frustrations they saw in their daily lives, but as African-Americans and Rastafarians, their outlook on oppression and a broken society came from a place the white suburban teenagers who were the backbone of most hardcore bands had never experienced. Their rage was more purposeful, and their embrace of "Positive Mental Attitude" was emblematic of a survival instinct and a desire for a larger justice rather than simply shouting for its own sake, and the depth of H.R.'s fevered howl was the right instrument to articulate this. Bad Brains had the gift to write anthems rather than just rants, and though their detours into reggae weren't always as immediately satisfying as their punk rock, their ability to shift from one rhythmic extreme to another with confidence and ease demonstrated the depth of their relationship with time. Bad Brains' only real flaw is the low-budget production and engineering, which documents the deep-focus ferocity of the performances but doesn't make it easy to focus on the details (an advantage their second LP, the Ric Ocasek-produced Rock for Light, has over the debut), which was even more of a problem in its original cassette-only release. Still, if the audio is not all it could be, the songs and the performances are dazzling and inspiring in their fury, and Bad Brains remains the gold standard of American hardcore, a warp-speed cry of rage and hope. -All Music Guide

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