Pepper: Kona Town

[7 October 2002]

By Jason Thompson

Sublimely Blah

First things first. Get the nutshell version of the review out of the way. Kona Town hail from Hawaii and have since relocated to California. Their latest platter Pepper is a dub/reggae-infested disc that sounds like a Sublime wannabe that can be forgotten as fast as the songs play. If you’re into that kind of sound, you’ll undoubtedly thrive in the good time vibes that this band creates, but you’ll still be saying to yourself, “This sounds like Sublime” the whole way through.

Really, though, isn’t it time to give up the ghost? Sublime had their moment, even posthumously when some more product was sent out after Brad Nowell’s death. Now we have to put up with the Sublime-influenced groups that don’t have a shred of originality in their bones, even if they are talented at what they play. Listening to album like Kona Town remind me of that cheesy Mark Wahlberg flick Rock Star in which Marky Mark played Chris Cole, the guy who fronted a metal tribute band and eventually wound up getting hired by the real group when they decided it was time to boot their lead vocalist to the curb. Well, Pepper sounds like the tribute band.

And really, Sublime was good, but they weren’t great by a long shot. Of course, this is also the kind of music that generally appeals to a younger audience, anyway. Would the Bob Marley fans be impressed? Probably not. Even the Clash’s stabs at dub and reggae—at their worst—sound more lively and inspired than this watered down version. Heck, Pepper even got Sublime’s horn player to add his notes throughout the disc, so what more proof do you need?

The beginning of the album is even a rip-off (or “tribute”, if you will). “The Good Thing” is a sloppy reworking of a Beach Boys jingle recorded for KOMA radio and found on the Good Vibrations box set. From there it’s straight into the dub inflections of “Stone Love” complete with echoed beats and the reggae rhythms that have been bastardized into a standard form by every kid who ever wanted to continue on in Bob Marley’s footsteps. And hey, Kaleo Wassman just can’t help but sound like Brad Nowell. Could be a carbon copy, even. Hell, even the Rx Bandits’ take on Sublime sounded more original than this.

The boys try to flesh it out a bit with the “punk” strains of “Face Plant” with straight ahead 4/4 rhythms and chugga-chugga guitar work, but again it all sounds derivative. So what’s it gonna be, the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Sublime” ska, or the Parkay punk? The discriminating listener will know better in either case and will leave Pepper lying in the wake of the morning surf. After all, how funny can a song like “Ho’s” actually be? Not very, and it winds up sounding like a warning shot as previously explored in Sublime’s “Wrong Way”. Pass.

The worst offender here has to be the frat house fun of “Give It Up”. At first, this tongue in cheek ode to sex is pretty likable, but it’s the novelty song in an album of novelty songs. The middle part breaks down into this forced comedy break in which the singer’s dad winds up shagging his girlfriend. Ha! By the time you’ve wiped the tears of laughter from your eyes from that one, you’ll be ready to overdose into the bland reggae of “Sitting on the Curb” and the rock / dub plundering of “Too Much”. Too much, indeed.

If you happen to be a reader under 20 years old, you’ll probably really enjoy this album. And that’s not to put down the kids at all, but seriously, Kona Town sounds like the kind of album worked out for the young bunch who don’t really know or care about where all these retread sounds originally came from. Plus the cartoon artwork featuring a hitchhiking fish on the cover and a spread of people partying and puking on the inside can’t miss with the teen demographic. Although, much more credit should be given to that portion of the music listening public. It’s simply the band’s fault that it’s so derivative and bland in the end. Steve Kravac’s production job sure is nice, though. But that’s not enough to save Pepper or Kona Town.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/pepper-kona/