When Alice in Chains announced that they would join the recent 90s nostalgia revival and "reunite" featuring a new singer, there was a large amount of trepidation amongst their fan base. William DuVall took over the deceased Layne Staley's duties as lead vocalist. A solid singer, DuVall essentially sounds like a Staley knock off, executing an outstanding imitation of the late rocker's tortured, zombie-like delivery at the microphone.
But Alice in Chains was not all about Layne. Jerry Cantrell was the force behind the band's metal-grunge. signature, grindingly industrial guitar sound that made the band arguably the darkest and heaviest of the high profile groups involved in the 90s alternative movement. And his harmonization and vocal interplay with Layne was also essential to the uniqueness of the band's sound, still present in a less-than-fresh way on the new Black Gives Way to Blue (2009).
Cantrell had used DuVall on multiple occasions during his solo tours (to sing the harmony parts on the Alice in Chains Songs in the set list) and his aforementioned likeness to Staley's voice was easily integrated into the essential sound of the band. While the current incarnation is not the truest version of Alice in Chains, there is a definite legitimacy to this group that many other bands don't possess when they bring in a new lead singer.
Like for example, Sublime. On October 23, 2009 the estate of deceased lead singer Bradley Nowell threatened the surviving members of Sublime — Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh — with a law suit if they followed through with their plans to reform with a new lead singer named Rome Ramirez (pictured above) under the moniker of Sublime. The estate issued the following statement:
"It was recently announced that Sublime bassist Eric Wilson and Sublime drummer Floyd 'Bud' Gaugh are 'reuniting' and teaming with singer and guitarist Rome Ramirez in a band they intend to call 'Sublime.' Prior to his untimely passing, both Bud and Eric acknowledged that Brad Nowell was the sole owner of the name Sublime. It was Brad's expressed intention that no one use the name Sublime in any group that did not include him, and Brad even registered the trademark 'Sublime' under his own name. As Brad's heirs, and with the support of his entire family, we only want to respect his wishes and therefore have not consented to Bud and Eric calling their new project 'Sublime.' We have always supported Bud and Eric's musical endeavors and their desire to continue to play Sublime's music. We wholeheartedly supported Bud, Eric and the many talented members of the Sublime posse that formed the Long Beach Dub All-Stars, soon after Brad's death, to honor him through their original recordings, live performances and Sublime music until they disbanded in 2001. But, out of respect for Brad's wishes, we have always refused to endorse any group performing as 'Sublime,' and now with great reluctance feel compelled to take the appropriate legal action to protect Brad's legacy. Our hope is that Brad's ex-bandmates will respect his wishes and find a new name to perform under, so as to enhance the 'Sublime' legacy without the confusion and disappointment that many fans have expressed upon seeing the announcement"
The band has since made an appearance with Ramirez as their lead singer at Cypress Hill's SmokeOut Festival in San Bernardino, California and the estate has, in turn, filed a lawsuit. All they wanted was for the band to take a different name. Like oh, I don't know, The Long Beach Dub All Stars perhaps? For five years the surviving members of Sublime toured as the LBDAS, releasing two albums, and finding mild success, mostly from Sublime's loyal fan base. But now, for some reason ($$$), two men who said they would always respect the memory and wishes of their deceased lead singer and friend, especially in respect to the entity he created and loved so dearly, are selling their musical souls to prostitute a name that still has a great deal of meaning to many music fans as well as the family of the man who embodied it.
Sublime is a band that this never should have happened to. It was bad enough seeing Scott Stapp front The Doors (if only for two songs) or Paul Rodgers playing Freddie Mercury and touring with "Queen" (and at least both of those bands were exceptionally talented musically and Rodgers can sing). But at the heart of Sublime's music, at the core of their creative energy, are the many layers and influences of Bradley Nowell. His songs are personal expressions about his life, his perceptions of the world around him, and the emotions that emanated from within him. Sublime was not about the drummer and bass player that jammed behind Bradley. Any set of session musicians could have handled what Wilson and Gaugh contributed. They were great because they were "part of it" and that's it. The previous statement is definitely harsh and yet absolutely true and they knew it at the time.
Songs like "40oz to Freedom" (40oz to Freedom), "Pool Shark" (Robin' the Hood) and "What I Got" (Sublime) give intimate insight into Bradley's blue-collar, dualistically enthusiastically embraced and yet excruciatingly torturous life from the candid perspective of a self-aware, junkie/musical genius.
Tracks like "We're Only Going to Die," "54-46 That's My Number," and "Scarlet Begonias" — all off of their debut 40oz to Freedom — exposed a young generation of fans (from various genres) to a variety of important musical pioneers including (in order of the previous list) Bad Religion, Toots and the Maytals, and the Grateful Dead. In many cases, Brandley's extreme talent was best shown in his ability to actually improve upon the songs of amazing artists (their cover of "Scarlet Begonias" is arguably superior to the Dead's outstanding original). Sublime's cover songs – like Brad's version of the Melodian's "The Rivers of Babylon — are stunningly insightful reinterpretations of obscurities ranging from roots reggae to hip hop and running through punk, ska, and all the other underground nuggets in between. He also frequently utilized samples (especially on Robin' the Hood) encompassing everything from Bob Marley loops to clips from the Cisco Kid.
Staple songs like "Badfish" (40 oz to Freedom), "Saw Red" (featuring Gwen Steffani on Robin' the Hood), and "Santeria" (Sublime) displayed Brad's creative, unique, and eclectic approach to song writing. Combining ska, reggae, hip hop, folk, and punk into a seamless hybrid that was an amazing musically infused mosaic in the vein of the approach and direction laid down by bands like The Specials, Bad Religion, Operation Ivy, the Clash and in many ways the Dead. The point is that the songs were conceived out of Brad's influences, they bared the track marks of his emotional scars, and they came to life by the focus of his mind and the breath of his lungs. Any version of a band called Sublime without Bradley Nowell is a heretical farce, end of story.
I've seen the Youtube videos of Rome Ramirez and I must say he does a great Bradley Nowell impression. From his style of guitar playing to his vocal inflections Ramirez will undoubtedly provide an outstanding performance in his new tribute band. But the fact is, there is no reason that band needs to be called Sublime. I'd be all for allowing Rome to front the Long Beach Dub All Stars or a totally new group. He would probably do a very good job. But to resurrect the Sublime name is obviously a pathetic cash grab by musicians afraid to make original music without relying on mental and emotional connections to Bradley's Sublime in the hearts and minds of the fans.
So what's next? Will Ringo and Paul bring in the Gallagher brothers and reform The Beatles? And I'm sure Daniel Johns from Silverchair could hop right in to Kurt Cobain's place in Nirvana. He would just have to grow back that long blond hair that everyone loved so much back in the Frogstomp days. While many music fans may have a hard time putting Sublime in a class with either of these two bands (The Beatles or Nirvana), many discerning fans from Generation X understand the massive impact Bradley's music had upon a variety of different genres today, and the intrinsic, tragic troubadour quality and value in everything Nowell recorded .
Bradley died two months prior to the release of Sublime's breakthrough, eponymous third and final proper record. Maybe the remaining members of the group aren't making enough money off of the residuals from the back sales of the albums and the greatest hits and live compilations that still litter record store shelves and i-Tunes (as I'm sure their record deal wasn't outstanding).
But Sublime always had a different ethos. A realism that was a combination of street-wise, punk and hippie values that flowed out of Bradley Nowell and formed a richly multi-layered, accessible, poetically creative entity that was — to be cliche'– often imitated and yet still has never been duplicated. They were beautiful and yet raw, hallucinogenicly idealistic yet shockingly realistic, accessible and yet brutal, because Bradley himself was all these contradictory things. And he was Sublime. No tribute band — no matter how well marketed or manicured — will never make Sublime's core fans forget that truth because will it never bring back a man, a group, and a concept that ceased to exist on May 25, 1996, on a tragic day in music history.