BRAD – Shame (1993)

BRAD – SHAME April 27th, 1993, Brad released their debut album Shame, on Epic Records.

BRAD formed in 1992, although the band members had been playing together for a long time before that. Friends Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam), Regan Hagar (Malfunkshun) Jeremy Toback and Shawn Smith (Satchel) intended on calling the band Shame, but rights to the name were already owned by a musician named Brad Wilson. Instead, the band took the name Brad and called their debut album Shame.

Released six months before Pearl Jam’s Vs broke sales records and eighteen months after Ten’s staggering success. Brad’s Shame would always struggle to make its voice heard above the colossal din of the Pearl Jam juggernaut. While joining the nihilistic musical outpourings that were commonplace by 1993 may have helped Brad crack a few more sales target barriers. They ignored that well populated path, and in doing so delivered one of the most beautiful and heartfelt rock albums of the ’90s.

The album was recorded in October 1992 in roughly 20 days at Avast Recording Co. in Seattle, Washington. Many tracks are taken from in-studio jam sessions. Produced by the band themselves and mixed by Brendan O’Brien. Shame felt cathartic, relaxed and emotive. It’s the sound of four extremely talented people shutting out expectations and following their hearts.

The album opens with Buttercup, a pulsating ballad that values space and the weight of expectation expressed when a band plays just behind the beat. Regan Hagar is jazz-like in his approach to drums, whispered and heavy on atmosphere. Stone Gossard dropping his electric guitar in at all the right moments, never rushed, never over playing, always perfect. Jeremy Toback’s bass augments everything with perfect counter melody and rhythm. And then there’s Shawn Smith. It’s immediately clear from the opening lines of Buttercup that he is something unique. Possessing a voice of rare beauty and piano skills to match.

Track two is My Fingers. An unmistakable Stone Gossard type riff and groove, it’s one of the more uptempo tracks on Shame. Shawn Smith’s voice sounds distant and engaging. And the rhythm section does an incredible job of making what is essentially a simple song sound propulsive and vital.

Third track Nadine benefits greatly from the expert rhythm section of Regan Hagar and Jeremy Taback. Regan, this time, almost pushing ahead of the beat which gives the track a dynamic tumbling feel, that in turn excites the dark minor key progression of the verse. Jeremy Toback adds melodic and funk bass which elevates Shawn Smith’s scat-like vocal.

Shawn Smith said of Jeremy Toback “The first 2 records would not be what they are without Jeremy Toback. He was kind of a “pro” bass player with the skills that players from Los Angeles tend to have. There was no one that we knew in Seattle at the time that would have brought that flavor, which I think made the record stand out in a way it might not have with someone else…”

This approach to bass is apparent on first single “20th Century”. Anchored by Stone Gossard’s, very Stone-like riff, the song is propelled by Toback’s slap bass, Smith’s ominous vocal and Hagar’s steady groove. The song became a minor hit in the UK and further set out the band’s stall as something different to the norm.

The album is populated with heartbreaking ballads such as Screen and Good News that show the devastating depth of Shawn Smith’s unique talent. In an era of truly exceptional singers, he rose from a region that coughed more than its fair share of undeniable greats (see Cornell, Staley et al) . Yet Smith’s approach forgoes bombast and histrionics in favour of raw emotion. It also didn’t hurt that he possessed a God given tone only found among the finest soul singers.

“Raise Love” is another up-tempo cut featuring Stone Gossard’s slide guitar. His slide playing during the verse of the song is reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s Deep from Ten, albeit less aggressive and more funky. The chorus of Raise Love soars as Smith sings “Raise love, to highlight, the world’s dreams, ecstasy and attitude..”

“Down” is a Twin Peaks style foray into an enveloping darkness. It’s hypnotically sung, with what seems like improvised lyrical streams of consciousness. “Rockstar” is pure satire, and most likely Stone ruminating on his new found celebrity “I’m a rockstar-water-walker, Walkin’ on water..”

Brad’s Shame is an overlooked classic. It could be used in the Webster dictionary as the true meaning of the term under-appreciated. The album didn’t sell well on release in 1993 and it still hasn’t garnered much mass adulation. And that’s the real shame.

Shawn Smith passed away in 2019. If anyone of the era deserved more recognition, it’s him. He left a body of work which is essential. Stone Gossard said of Shawn after his passing

“I wish that I had a chance to make another record with him. We were in a lot of conversations right before he passed away about, ‘We’re going to make this record!’ He was so excited about it. Shawn passed away in his sleep, he died of a heart attack. And I don’t think he wanted to go, he wanted to make more records. We were talking about it. I think about him all the time, he’s present all the time for me.”

Long live Shawn Smith..!!!