It has been almost nine years since Bad Religion left Epitaph Records for Atlantic. Leaping to a major label is a treacherous and dangerous thing for any band-even more so in punk. In leaving to a major label, a band risks isolating its audience and being labeled a sell-out. What hurt Bad Religion the most in its jump to the majors was the loss of chief songwriter and guitarist Brett Gurewitz.
The band chose to go on with its music while Gurewitz chose to stay and manage his record label Epitaph. Gurewitz had started Epitaph in the early 80’s to release Bad Religion’s work. Bad Religion made its first major label release with “Stranger than Fiction,” and Epitaph Records found tremendous success with a record by a then underground band named Offspring.
When Gurewitz left Bad Religion, he was replaced by Minor Threat alumnus Brian Baker. During its years on Atlantic, Bad Religion released a couple of fairly mundane albums, including the bland, almost radio friendly “The Gray Race.” The band meant well, but without Gurewitz’s songwriting the band never had the edge and appeal it did during its Epitaph years.
Not that Bad Religion’s Atlantic years were completely wasted. 2000 brought “The New America,” an album that focused less on the ambiguous political ramblings of lead singer Greg Graffin and more on standing up for yourself and being who you are. The album, produced by Todd Rundgren, showed that Bad Religion could not only age gracefully, but that it could evolve even more.
Throughout its career, Bad Religion has built upon its LA hardcore heritage to expand to heights that few bands are even capable of. Bad Religion has always been a band that has pushed boundaries and opened frontiers. Where would music and punk be without 1988’s “Suffer”? Fortunately for fans, Bad Religion reunited with Gurewitz and Epitaph to bring us 2002’s “The Process of Belief.”
Most artists fail to age and mature well. When you are talking punk music, Rancid is a perfect example of this phenomena. Bad Religion has always pushed on and evolved its musical vision despite prevailing trends. Its early work focused on the Reagan era and Cold War doctrines. Albums like 1992’s “Generator” took its leftist political stance to greater heights as the Graffin/Gurewitz writing team took on the Persian Gulf war and the misdealings of George Bush-the first one.
In its old age, a relative term here, Bad Religion has found its niche. There is the obligatory “we are still around and we are not dead yet song” in the form of “Broken” on this album, though. Even though this song has a topic tread upon by every band or artist to make it past two albums, the track still shows growth. Most notably the band has mixed acoustic guitars to great effect with their trademark sound. If you want to see how not to write a song like this, check out the last Smashing Pumpkins album. Remember “Everlasting Gaze”? Yeah, you aren’t dead Billy, we know.
This album shows an energy that one would not, or should not, expect from a band that has been around since circa 1980. This album focuses on, and improves upon, what Bad Religion has always been about, making great music. Their three guitar attack, supported by one of the tightest drummers around, mixes perfectly with their almost Everly-Brothers-style harmonies. Harmony . . . Wow. You don’t see that much in music anymore-especially punk.
This album is worth picking up for old fans and new alike. It took Bad Religion a little longer than most bands to go back underground, but they have. Thank God too, I might add. Fortunately for everyone, they have also decided to tour in support of this album while being fronted by two of the most interesting bands around right now-Hot Water Music and Less Than Jake.
Bad Religion will be trucking into Atlanta on Thursday March 7 to play the Tabernacle. Tickets check in at 20 bucks. It’s $26 I think if you go through Ticketmaster. Don’t you hate Ticketmaster? Anyway, that’s a good price to see one of the most influential punk-hardcore bands of all time. You wouldn’t have your precious Blink 182 without these guys, I hope you know that.
Also, it’s got Hot Water Music and Less Than Jake. That is a good show right there. You not only have quantity, you got quality. Package that with the Tabernacle, an old opera house turned punk club, and you are set. Plus, one more big party before Spring Break is always welcome.
So there you go. Bad Religion. Good band, good album. Go check them out. Another show coming to the area that might interest a lot of people is Leftover Salmon. If you are a Bad Religion fan I don’t think you would like Leftover Salmon, but you never know. Leftover Salmon plays the Asheville Music Zone on March 6th. Hey that’s my Mom’s birthday! Happy birthday Mom!