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Bad Religion | New America | review | punk | Lollipop

Bad Religion

The New America (Atlantic)
by Tim Den

Despite being the band cited most often as an influence besides The Beatles (as well as one of my all-time favorites), Bad Religion is having a tough time proving to the millennial generation that they're still relevant. They have, and always will have, legions of diehard fans (such as myself) who'll never abandon them, but so will Neil Diamond. I guess what I'm saying is that just because you still manage to sell records to the people who'll always love you, that doesn't mean you matter. Like Triumph the Insult Dog once said: "It's like sniffing your sister's ass: it's not real." And after the last studio record, No Substance (despite the few goodies it contains), it was looking like Bad Religion's time to matter had long since passed.

But what's this!? Whoa-ho-ho-ho!!! Looks like the twenty-year-old unit has caught us by surprise just as we were ready to hand them their social security checks. The New America -- a record with depth, vision, and one helluva production job by popmaster Todd Rundgren -- has Bad Religion swinging back into the groove of things circa Recipe for Hate (their creative and imaginative peak). Distorted drums ("A World Without Melody"), indie rock-isms ("It's a Long Way to the Promised Land"), and punk beats played with something other than bass-and-snare ("You've Got a Chance")... man, they're pulling out the stops!! Rundgren's part in all of this is undeniable. Known for his background in '60's textural recordings, he's made Bad Religion rethink the potential of a gut-wrenching vocal line backed with pounding rhythms. The guitar interplay, as well as the varying of tempos in just the right places, has erased all bad memories of No Substance's cheesy AC/DC rock and The Gray Race's blind speed (I love The Gray Race nonetheless) by complimenting vocalist Greg Graffin's voice. And to reciprocate, Graffin has avoided most cliché vocal lines and delivered some classic melodies. "Don't Sell Me Short" is a dead ringer for the kind of so-good-it-makes-you-cry holler that built "Skyscraper" (from Recipe for Hate), "1000 Memories" has the raise-the-hair-on-your-neck harmonies of "Better Off Dead" (one of their best ever; from Stranger Than Fiction), and never has the band written a more majestic call-to-arms anthem than "New America." Not since high school have I played a new Bad Religion album and memorized every word, note, harmony, guitar bend, and drum fill. This record reeks of "instant classic."

And the best part is, this album makes their past six years all make sense. Think about it: after Mr. Brett (Gurewitz; guitarist/backup vocalist/songwriter, now head honcho of Epitaph Records) quit in '94 after Stranger Than Fiction, the band put out The Gray Race in '96 -- an album that had to be fast to prove that the band was able to stay punk after one of its founders left. And when the reaction came back -- a backfire of sorts against what was deemed "trying too hard to be old school" with all the fast beats -- the band took the next logical step in trying to sound "modern rock" with '98's No Substance. Again, backfired reaction, this time people called it watered-down simplicity at its worst. Now, with both extremes tested, and a producer with a knack for depth in tow, Bad Religion has learned their lesson and churned out an album that has the best of every (punk rock) world. Trademarked beautiful vocals (that're not predictable or repetitive), tons of energy, passionate/intelligent observations on the human race and emotions, attentive to the pacing of each song... this is Bad Religion's second peak.

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