Bad Brains -- 'God of Love'

By Mark Jenkins
Special to the Washington Post
Published: May 10, 1995

Review: Bad Brains: "God of Love" (Maverick)

Hard-core punk's most influential rent party, the original lineup of Bad Brains, has reassembled yet again, this time to work for Madonna. The D.C.-rooted, New York-based quartet's "God of Love" is the first punk-revival offering from Madonna's Maverick label, as well as the latest attempt at a reconciliation between vocalist H.R. and the other band members, who have split several times since they started recording together in 1980.

The new album, which continues the Brains' efforts to meld punk, metal and reggae, also reunites the band with former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, who produced 1983's "Rock for Light," arguably the definitive Brains release. "Love" is an improvement over the quartet's previous disc, made two years ago while H.R. was AWOL, but the album's balance between rock and reggae doesn't suit the band's abilities especially well. Though the group's enthusiasm for Rastafarianism and its music is surely genuine, the Brains are at their most galvanizing at full speed.

Alone among their peers when they began playing at the Madams Organ art collective 15 years ago, the Brains had mastered their instruments. Using the skills they'd already developed, guitarist Dr. Know, drummer Earl Hudson and bassist Darryl Jenifer played both faster and more precisely than any other hard-core band. That adrenalized style kicks off "God of Love," with "Cool Mountaineers" and "Justice Keepers"; Know's skittering guitar solo on the latter successfully recaptures the headlong rush of the band's early days.

Such moments, however, are not typical of "God," the band's sixth studio album. Know's playing is as fluid as ever, but in this context his ability is largely squandered. About half of the 12 songs are loping reggae tunes, and the addition of horns, backup vocals and percussion accents doesn't significantly diminish their monotony. The Brains do manage a few surprises, notably on the bouncy, preachy "Rights of a Child," which interrupts such commonplace pronouncements as "Every life is priceless" with a pounding metal chorus and a spacy guitar solo. "Tongue Tee Tie," "Thank Jah" and the title track also crossbreed pounding rock and lilting reggae, but such songs as "Overs the Water" and "Big Fun Come" take the latter straight.

Clearly the Brains, who will play a free show tomorrow at Tracks, take seriously the praise-Haile Selassie message of "To the Heavens" and "Thank Jah." The band's last album didn't work out, Jenifer told Billboard, because of "an unfortunate mismatch of vibe and spirit. . . . It was difficult to let the message of love flow freely."

What seldom flows freely on "God," however, is the head-spinning attack of such early Brains classics as "Banned in D.C." and "Riot Squad." The group's Utopian message wears thin over the course of the album, and its gentler grooves are seldom as compelling as its harder ones; of the mid-tempo tracks, only "Longtime" is sufficiently intricate to compensate for the lack of vigor. Universal love is a charming ideal, but this album could benefit from a bit more acrimony.

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