To put it simply, Bad Brains is one of the most important bands of all time. Stylistically inventive players who dabble in punk, reggae, hip-hop, funk and metal and whose influence can be found on everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Rage Against the Machine, they’ve left quite a legacy, with the four main members of the group (H.R., Dr. Know, Darryl Jenifer & Earl Hudson) all carving a definite place in Rock history. But how do their albums measure up? Well, read on to find out and broaden your Bad little Brain. Soon enough, you’ll be able to keep up with the world’s leading Rasta-expert: Mr. Chet Hanks.
9. Quickness (1989)
This album seems to be a bit of a regression from the earlier Bad Brains material. The punk’s a bit harder, but it’s also… sloppier, somehow. The anger feels like it’s been replaced by spleen-venting. And, of course, we should talk about the elephant in the room that is “Don’t Blow Bubbles,” a song that has had a really problematic legacy of homophobia, suggesting that if you “don’t blow bubbles” and “don’t blow spikes,” AIDS would not exist. To the Bad Brains’ credit, in the years since the song came out, the band has distanced itself from the song, and re-releases of the album do not feature it. That being said, even with “Don’t Blow Bubbles” out of the mix, there’s still something less than enchanting about this album when listened to alongside its predecessors. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it does feel an underwhelming shout from the late 1980s. Not unlike the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
Play it again: “Gene Machine/Don’t Bother Me”
Skip it: “Don’t Blow Bubbles”
8. God of Love (1995)
After bouncing around different frontmen throughout the late-’80s and early-’90s, Bad Brains reclaimed original vocalist H.R. for this rocking, rap-inflected mid-90s album. And the result, much like a haircut from a coked-out barber, is sadly uneven. Now don’t get me wrong. You have to respect Bad Brains for playing around with style. After almost twenty years of existence, the willingness to play with different genres and styles (hip-hop specifically) is commendable. Better that than be the musical equivalent of the adults who only eat pasta and Chipotle for every meal. But it doesn’t save “God of Love” from its cardinal sin. It’s honestly just kind of boring. From the start, on songs like “Cool Mountaineer” you almost get the sense their hearts aren’t in it. The rap on songs like “Justice Keepers” is as nosy and intrusive as a Human Resources representative and the energy is lethargic throughout.
Play it again: “Long Time”
Skip it: “Darling I Need You”
7. I & I Survived (2002)
“Quickness” and “God of Love” are really the only two Bad Brains albums I can’t, in good conscience, recommend. But for newcomers, there’s something tricky in “I & I Survived.” That’s not to say it’s a bad album. It’s not. It is, however, an album without a lead vocalist. Israel Joseph I was long gone and H.R. had split yet again, leaving the band down to a nearly all-instrumental core trio in Darryl Jenifer, Earl Hudon and Dr. Know. The three come together to create a slow-going reggae and ska-based album. With that in mind, it’s difficult not to see Jenifer (on bass) as the hero of this album, but really the group plays perfectly together, with Jenifer and Dr. Know doing most of the arrangements for both the new and covered songs (“I & I Survive” and “Gene Machine” both appear here.) This album is perfect for when you just need to chill out, maybe relax, study, and, certainly not do schedule-one narcotics to.
Play it again: “Jah Love”
Skip it: “How Low Can a Punk Get”
6. Rise (1993)
Ah, the ‘90s. The very end of history has been attained. And so has a brand new frontman for Bad Brains in the form of Israel Joseph I. With Joseph, the band took on another new sound. The screaming, wailing hardcore disruption of H.R. had been replaced with steady grooving, funk-infused hard-rock. On the surface, “Rise” is not dramatically different from a lot of other ‘90s rock albums. It’s just a bit better. Songs like “Love is the Answer” retain the band’s reggae spirit, while “Free” and “Hair” create an accessible new kind of rock sound for the band, and songs like “Coming in Numbers” and “Miss Freedom” harken back to the punk roots. This album is perfect for slipping back into a ‘90s frame of mind. Perfect for counting down the return of “King of the Hill,” “Frasier” and most likely, hantavirus.
Play it again: “Love Is the Answer” and “Hair”
Skip it: “Peace of Mind”
5. Into the Future (2012)
Thirty years and eight albums since the original “Bad Brains,” “Into the Future” marks a kind of synthesis of everything the band had been playing with up to that point. The punk is abrasive, the funk is infectious, the guitar is utterly phenomenal, the bass and drums are delicious, the vocals are spot on. The “boyfriend” seems nice and the girls seem to have eaten their spaghetti and meatballs. The whole album has an ambitious playfulness to it, with song titles like “Popcorn” and “Rub a Dub Love.” A definite recommend. The fact that it’s this low on the list just shows that when this group is good, they’re very good.
Play it again: “Popcorn”
Skip it: “Come Down”
4. Build a Nation (2007)
A true comeback album for the ages. H.R., Daryl Jenifer, Dr. Know, and Earl Hudson are back in the studio together (under the eye of the Beastie Boys’ MCA) and the album sounds incredible. “Build a Nation” has drive, focus, thematic consistency, and energy for days. Like a research paper written by a teenage Ritalin addict. “Build a Nation” focuses heavily on the spiritual themes that the Bad Brains have been playing with since the beginning. Songs like “Jah People Make the World Go Round” and “Give Thanks and Praises” both abound with electric holiness in an incredibly catchy way. But the album also harkens back to the group’s early days with songs like “Let There Be Angels (Just Like You)” and “In the Beginning.”
Play it again: “Jah People Make the World Go Round” and “Natty Dreadlocks ‘pon the Mountain Top”
Skip it: “Send You No Flowers”
3. Rock For Light (1983)
If the self-titled debut is staticky, hissing and insane, “Rock For Light” is… well, it’s those things too. Of course. But it’s just a little bit less. It’s a bit calmer. A bit more polished. There’s a little bit more reggae on here and redone covers of the band’s earlier songs that, while a bit more tidy and engineered, still manage to hit pretty hard. This album also touches more prominently on the band’s Rastafarian background with songs like “I and I Survive” and “The Meek” both taking on a more reggae-heavy sound and delving directly into social concerns.
Play it again: “I and I Survive” and “The Meek”
Skip it: “Joshua’s Song”
2. I Against I (1986)
An influence on acts like Sublime and Rage Against the Machine, there are many interesting things about the third Bad Brains album. Not the least of which is that the title track was covered by Jeff Buckley, thus bridging the gap between hardcore punk fans and people who think that poetry counts as foreplay. “I Against I” also shows something new for the band. There’s a proto-’90s groove on tracks like “Re-Ignition” and “House of Suffering” that adds a hookiness that wasn’t there on the first two albums, and full-blown pop-rock tendencies on “She’s Calling You” and “Secret 77,” which is either great or terrible depending on what kind of punk you are.
Play it again: “Re-Ignition” and “She’s Calling You”
Skip it: No skip album.
1. Self-Titled (1982)
The Alpha. The Omega. The absolute GOAT. Whether you’ve listened to any Bad Brains before today or you’re just clicking on this article out of a sense of bored curiosity, you’ve definitely seen the iconic “lightning striking the capitol building” cover art before. This album is nearly perfect. There’s a lot of excellent stuff on here with songs like “Attitude” and “F.V.K. (Fearless Vampire Killers)” feeling like a raging punk tornado, while more reggae-inflected songs like “Jah Calling” harken back to the band’s Rastafarian-roots. Mostly though, the songs are fast, they’re angry, and often H.R.’s antagonistic falsetto blends the lyrics into pure banshee-like wailing. Like a smoothie made of barbed wire. (Go pick up this classic in our store)
Play it again: “Right Brigade” and “Leaving Babylon”
Skip it: No skip album
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