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Bad Religion | Against the Grain | review | punk | Lollipop
Against the Grain (Epitaph)
by Tim Den
At the crossroads of the '80s and '90s, American punk/hardcore was very much a different animal from its ancestors 10 years prior. On the West Coast, a new breed of SoCal "pop punk" bands were pushing forward the sound and style Suffer helped popularize, and the head of that movement – the very authors of Suffer, Bad Religion – were about to refine it even further.
Against the Grain, perhaps more than any other in their catalog, has been hailed as Bad Religion's best album. It is here that the band finally reached their full vocal potential, as vocalist Greg Graffin, guitarist Mr. Brett, and bassist Jay Bentley coat harmonies and "ozzin ahhs" all over songs like wax on apples. It is also here that chief songwriters Graffin and Mr. Brett expanded beyond the power chord formula, regularly incorporating open chords, dissonance, and manic riff changes (as opposed to the "four bars = four chords" structure) into their palette. Tracks such as "Blenderhead," "Positive Aspect of Negative Thinking," and fan favorite "Anesthesia" showed new methods of interpreting and delivering pop punk, with subtleties hidden within voicings both instrumental and human. The songs became less predictable yet more catchy, more capable of inciting a reaction, and smarter. Lyrically, Graffin and Mr. Brett aimed their venom at organized ignorance, whether it was religion ("God Song," a ridiculously underrated gem), welfare ("Quality or Quantity"), or society as a whole (title track). There also seemed to be irrepressible cynicism and sarcasm toward individuals/groups who co-opt other's pain and misfortune ("Operation Rescue," "Flat Earth Society"), as well as an urgent advocation of change ("Unacceptable," "Walk Away").
Bad Religion were now perfecting pop punk into a relevant, visceral (yet cerebral), and charismatic art form. Even to amateur ears, there was no denying that here was a band giving much needed insight and sophistication to an otherwise simplistic genre. Suffer might have started it all, but to some, it peaked with Against the Grain. As drummer Pete Finestone exited and Bobby Schayer took his seat, the band would next take their songs into longer running times in order to fully utilize their new abilities. And a dark, bleak, wonderful album would emerge from of it.