Friday, July 23, 2010

Blog for Light

Like the previous Bad Brains record posted here, this one needs no introduction. Rock for Light is often considered to be the Bad Brains’ finest moment, mostly because it was their last true hardcore record before splitting up and reuniting to delve deeper into reggae and exploring other forms of music to less than favorable results. Others love this album just because it’s so damn fast, breaking the hardcore speed barrier before bands like DRI and Lärm took it to the next level.

Therein lies the problem.

When I first heard Rock for Light as a teenager, it didn’t resonate with me the same way the ROIR cassette did. Dr. Know’s guitar sound lacked the heavy Black Sabbath quality that made the tape debut so amazing. The bottom end, another important factor, was virtually nonexistent. Most of all, many of the songs actually seemed to be too fast, sacrificing power and memorable songwriting in favor of speed for the sake of speed. Years later, I came to appreciate Rock for Light for what it was, although I still pull out the ROIR tape when I want to get my Bad Brains fix.

Recently I was reading a thread on the HRPS board (aka “the scenester board”) and discovered that there was a legitimate reason why I thought the songs on Rock for Light were played faster than they should have been. It turns out that producer Ric Ocasek and bassist Darryl Jenifer sped up the master while remixing the album in 1990. I was right this entire time, despite people telling me that I was crazy to criticize Rock for Light for being too fast. Apparently, this has been public knowledge for years, but I’m old-fashioned and don’t get all of my punk info from Wikipedia like you young whippersnappers do these days.

Chris Corry from Mind Eraser was cool enough to rip his original vinyl copy and post it on the board for the less fortunate. Sure enough, there’s a big difference between the original on PVC and the Caroline repress. Caroline rearranged the track order and added “Supertouch,” “I,” and the minute-long reggae jam at the end. There’s minor production details that don’t matter to most, but made a bit of a difference to me when comparing the two. Most of the songs are two to three seconds shorter. That doesn’t sound like much, but compare the two versions and you’ll see how drastic of a difference there really is. They even sped up “Rally Around Jah Throne” to where it was actually about forty seconds shorter than the original! I don’t get it. I guess you would have had to be in the studio with Ric and Darryl to understand why they even bothered.

Although it might disappoint some people to find that these songs aren’t as fast as you thought, rest assured that the original is a lot better. You can’t rid the lyrics of their religious convictions, nor do you get the Tony Iommi guitar sound. But the bottom end is back, baby! So is the power. H.R.’s vocals no longer sound like the product of huffing helium between takes. No Bad Brains record will ever top the ROIR cassette’s revolutionary fury, but Rock for Light is definitely a great album in its original form. Rediscovering this album was almost like taking a beautiful girl home for the night, only to discover that she’s even more so underneath all of those clothes.

If you are like me and are only recently coming to this realization, you might appreciate that we at The Evil Eye have opted to upload both versions of Rock for Light here so you can sit down at the computer and make the comparison yourself. My guess is that you’ll just delete the Caroline version after downloading it, but it’s there if you’re feeling a bit obsessive-compulsive today.

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