Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bad Brains

  • Bad Brains [ROIR, 1982] B+
  • Rock for Light [PVC, 1983] B+
  • I Against I [SST, 1986] B-
  • Quickness [Caroline, 1989] C+
  • The Youth Are Getting Restless [Caroline, 1990] *
  • Rise [Epic, 1993] Dud
  • Banned in D.C.: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs [Caroline, 2003] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bad Brains [ROIR, 1982]
Turn a fusion band into hardcore propheteers and you end up with fast heavy metal. The best kind for damn sure, especially since they turn their rage into Positive Mental Attitude. I like it fine. But great punks give up more than a salubrious blur. B+

Rock for Light [PVC, 1983]
Mediocre hardcore you can ignore, especially if you live in an area where they dig up the street a lot; hardcore of a certain quality you love or hate. More than ex-fusioneer Dr. Know on "gits," it's the distinctive if not exactly authoritative blackboard-screechy "throat" of H.R. that provides the quality here, and I like it, kind of. Though this repeats five tunes from their ROIR cassette, it's definitive by virtue of its Ric Ocasek production and vinyl audio. You know what to do. B+

I Against I [SST, 1986]
As a reggae band, they were a hardcore band with a change-up; as a metal band, they're a hardcore band with a great windup and no follow-through. The small problem is H.R.'s lyrics, which he's still smart enough to blur with the speed and attitude that make the lead and title cut their strongest song since "Pay to Cum." The big problem is Dr. Know, who's got a hundred Hendrix moves and no killer riffs. B-

Quickness [Caroline, 1989]
For H.R. this precedent-setting band has devolved into a money gig--he feels more comfortable juicing his Afro-universalist utterances with the reggae-inflected world-rock of his solo records and his alternate group Human Rights. And though the title tune claims to jam the disco with acid rock and hardcore rather than hip hop/go go/bebop, the shit sure sounds like metal to me. Sure sounds like Dr. Know, too--on his own H.R. is only a bore, but in this context his male chauvinist arrogance comes through loud if not clear. C+

The Youth Are Getting Restless [Caroline, 1990]
live 1987, when skank-wise hyperkinesis was still a cultural mission ("Day Tripper/She's a Rainbow," "At the Movies") *

Rise [Epic, 1993] Dud

Banned in D.C.: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs [Caroline, 2003]
As hardcore fans have always known, they were as historic a band as Fugazi or Black Flag. And as the subtitle knows, they weren't about songwriting--this was a band band, one of the few with the talent, experience, discipline, and love to bend master chops to a downpressed style. There are no weak links or even unequal partners. Sure H.R. and Dr. Know got the attention, but skank scholar Darryl Jenifer and power polymath Earl Hudson stand just as proud. From this seminal unit proceed both Living Colour and Limp Bizkit--every metallurgist who saw that guitar heroism had to get faster and funkier. A great sound--and a lyric sheet you'll need. A