I've heard quite a few post-punk records in my time but none better than I Against I. Originally released in 1986, it was Bad Brains' bid to draw a line under hell-for-leather punk and go wherever their inclinations took them. The record proves beyond any doubt that their ability more than matched their ambition: if Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, The Sex Pistols and Jimi Hendrix had got together in the studio, the results would have sounded like I Against I - it's that good.
Using conventional instrumentation, I Against I is slower paced than the Brains' earlier output, leaving room for funky basslines that recall Gang of Four and Fugazi. The guitars yelp their way up and down the scale as though they are almost human, while HR sings in a frequently pained voice that complements the theme of the lyrics: dignity in adversity. The octave range is wide throughout, so we are treated to real tunes that put most of today's 'emo' to shame. The record possesses two idiosyncrasies: HR sang the lyrics to Sacred Love down a phone line from prison (a drugs-related offence, apparently), while Intro is 20 or 30 seconds of music that grows into a full song on the Brains' next album, Quickness. I Against I also contains House of Suffering, a fantastic, abrasive, impassioned and melodic song that ranks as Bad Brains' best tune ever. Rather than rail aimlessly at the world, Bad Brains took up Rastafarianism. This endows I Against I with a righteousness unusual in this type of music. None of the tracks overstays its welcome and the whole thing sounds as if it was all in a day's work for the band.
Everyone from Kurt Cobain to The Beastie Boys name-checked Bad Brains, and I Against I anticipated the 'dance rock' of Faith No More and Jane's Addiction, but neither of those bands sound as soulful and effortless as Bad Brains sound here.