September 14, 2000

Hits From the Bong

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O.P.M. Go ahead, say it quickly. That’s right. This L.A.-trio has more than Californian suburban life on its mind. Menace to Sobriety, no more clever now than it was back in 1995 when Ugly Kid Joe released an album of the same name, is filled with numerous references to the police, not-so-veiled references to the band’s penchant for drugs, and even homage to Captain Morgan. The band’s music can alternately be described as a Latin-flavored amalgamation of rock, hip-hop, dancehall, and pop (read: Sublime). Bradley Nowell’s spirit lives on.

“Heaven Is A Halfpipe,” the album’s first single, is an intoxicating mix of ready-for-radio vocals, reggae beats, and a large dose of smug irreverence. “If I die before I wake/At least in heaven I can skate,” sings Shakey, a puerile refrain certainly worthy of a children’s poetry book. Who cares, though? O.P.M. just feels good. Just ask the Chinese.

The band’s SoCal insouciance shines through on the rest of the album, especially on the wildly gratuitous “Stash Up” and its incantations of “I don’t give a f***.” Eminem would be proud. The album hits a flat note on “Dealerman,” an all-too-obvious swing-inspired track unfortunate enough to be superimposed over what appears to be the guitar riff from “On the Road Again.”

The band doesn’t misstep often, though, and the album boasts an impressive array of collaborations, from Janes Addiction’s Eric Avery (“Stash Up”), to Angelo Moore of Fishbone (“Better Daze”, “Unda”), to Asdrubal Sierra and Ulises Bella of Ozomatli. Listen carefully and you’ll swear you can hear strains of the Beastie Boys, Everlast, and even Tupac in the vocals: familiar voices in an unfamiliar landscape mottled with references to California skate-culture. Despite the decidedly dark lyrics of most of the songs, the band infuses enough brio into the vocals to lend the album an air of optimism. This is SoCal, after all.

When Matthew sings “Hanging out till the break of dawn/Listening to Bob and singing along” on “Brighter Side,” one genuinely asks whether he is referring to Bob Marley or Bob Dylan. Hell, you could probably make a case for Bob Mould.

The diverse influences of the 14 tracks (plus the obligatory hidden track) flow together with admirable ease, linked only by a festive undercurrent of Latin-American sounds. Forget the Long Beach Dub All-Stars. O.P.M. really picks up where Sublime left off.

Comparisons are inevitable, but as long as they keep “winning the war on drugs,” as Matthew proudly proclaims at the close of the album, they will avoid the most obvious one.

Archived article by Michael Tivin