Bad Religion:True North
Sixteen albums in and Bad Religion are still at it. Their latest album, True North, is thirty-five minutes of exactly what Bad Religion do best. Fast and aggressive punk songs that manage not to lose their melodic edge or catchy guitar riff. For me, the band has always been a punk rock AC/DC, they do what they do and that’s what they do. Well, except for 1983’s Into The Unknown, which is a story for another time.
Let’s establish one thing right off the bat. From 1982-1994, Bad Religion are untouchable. If we compare those releases to a coin toss, heads being good and tails being bad, the BR crew stared Abraham Lincoln in the face for twelve straight years. Then, post 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction, the coin toss became less reliable. Some of the records were heads, some were tails. Some had the band facing Lincoln, some had Bad Religion crushed under the weight of the Lincoln Monument. Thankfully, in the year of our lord 2013, the coin has landed heads.
Inspired by the political and social unrest, True North is the most concise Bad Religion album in several years. Perhaps it’s that guitarist and song writer Brett Gurewitz stepped back behind the producing table, or maybe the band is just more pissed off, regardless, True North fires laser accurate attacks on the government, media, social inequality and the forgotten ones who must suffer the biggest burden.
The opening title track hits with a pummeling guitar line and ferocity, the combination of which sets the stage for the entire record. Vocalist Greg Graffin unloads with the same frenetic energy as the music, singing lines like “Overburdened, underwhelmed, their ethical decree/That’s your moral compass but what good is it to me.” Bad Religion have been around long enough not to make an easy political record. They question things, from common attitudes all the way to political outlooks and global tribulations. Unlike most punk bands who just scream their anger, Bad Religion try to marry that outrage with a political awakening.
“Robin Hood In Reverse” is a call to arms against corporate greed. In one line Griffin echoes with disdain the American business idea that “Corporations are people”. As the raging but always catchy guitar lines speed skate over high paced drumming, Graffin paints a portrait of those who rob from the poor to give to the rich. “Fuck You” allows the band to point their fire at people being driven to such levels of desperation and exhaustion that their only recourse is to throw up their hands and say fuck you to the unfair mountain they must climb every day.
“Dept. Of False Hope” is a streamlined Bad Religion song, breaking its speed only to carry the chorus of “Hold your head up forgotten man” in a halftime that allows the words to be more impactful. “Popular Consensus” is all hammer attack musically but that’s okay, the message against popular consensus equaling what’s right is just as angry. Song after song, Bad Religion power through high rocktane pop gems made harder by political awareness and intelligent lyrics. This is what Bad Religion do and nobody does it better.
I won’t say True North doesn’t have bumps in the road. “Hello Cruel World” is badly placed. The song is about a quarter the speed of the other songs and it comes smack dab in the middle of the record, which saps the momentum. “Dharma And The Bomb” is just a bad song, it could have easily been excluded. “The Island” is a good jam, but the ghosts of “Delirium Of Disorder”, from 1988’sSuffer, are difficult to ignore. With sixteen songs on True North, Bad Religion could have easily snipped these three tunes and given us a tremendous thirteen song album.
Still, the penny has landed face up for the band and I’m glad. Bad Religion are like old bare knuckle fighters who never step out of the ring. There are younger fighters, better-looking fighters, fighters that use their equipment in a more spectacular way and always fighters with more money. It doesn’t matter though, because the old, beat up, scarred and pissed off fighter uses his gifts to not just stay in the fight, but also remain relevant to it.