Born Dead

Body Count

Virgin Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If you've been reading "The Daily Vault" for some time, you'll be familiar with what we call the "sophomore slump". If you're a relatively new reader, this term refers to the difficulty an artist faces when they release their second album - especially if the first album is a success. I've seen far too many examples of artists whose second album pales in comparison to their debut - and sadly, some of these artists are never heard from again.

Today, I'd like to highlight a group that not only didn't fall into the "sophomore slump," but released an album that was better than their debut. That group? Body Count. The album? Born Dead. The ferociousness of this album - in both vocals and performances - is a major step up from the album that brought us "Cop Killer" (and the ensuing controversy), and could well be an overlooked classic from the '90s.

Ice-T was seemingly on a downhill roll. After a lengthy battle over the song "Cop Killer" (which would eventually be removed from later pressings of Body Count), Warner Brothers dropped the rapper. If memory serves me correctly, the final flap with Warner Brothers had to do with the artwork for Ice-T's solo album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Home Invasion, which ended up being released on Virgin. Not surprisingly, Body Count also ended up on the new label, but Born Dead was released to the public with little - if any - fanfare.

Too bad... it's a damn good album, and a frightening one as well. More on that in a minute.

The first thing that hits you when listening to Born Dead is that the band - guitarist Ernie-C, guitarist D-Roc, bassist Mooseman and drummer Beatmaster "V" - is a much tighter musical unit. Granted, Body Count was recorded after the band had only been together for a few months. But Born Dead shows what a little time and seasoning can do for any band.

Second, Ice-T seems more willing to do more than just scream the lyrics to the songs. He even - gasp! - sings on the band's cover of "Hey Joe", proving that he has a pretty good set of pipes. But Ice-T does expand things by using some vocal distortion at times - and on tracks like "Masters Of Revenge," it works well.

Of course, the zealots are going to complain about the violence and language on Born Dead, just like they did on Body Count. They may deride the imagery on songs like "Last Breath," or claim that a song like "Street Lobotomy" is a billboard for drug use.

But let's really be honest: Ice-T is not promoting any of this. Instead, he is acting as a social commentator on a world that many of us are fortunate enough not to see day in and day out. But it is real, it is not far from where we live - and Ice-T makes us uncomfortable by reminding us about it in the music.

The fact is, tracks like "Street Lobotomy" (which tells of the dangers of drugs and drink), "Shallow Graves" (which is an anti-war song) and "Necessary Evil" (a commentary about life on the wrong side of the tracks) should remind us that this world exists, and the longer we turn our eyes away from it, the worse things are going to get. Even the title track is a reminder that we can't take anything for granted, and if we just saw how bad some of our fellow human beings had it, we might just appreciate the little things in our own lives.

Even if you don't go beyond the lyrics and try to find a deeper message in these songs, Born Dead is an album that musically does not disappoint. This album proves that not only was Ice-T's all-black heavy metal band not a gimmick, but they were a force that should have been reckoned with. It's just too bad that some people couldn't get past the stereotypes.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.