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Inspired by the proprietor of the excellent Egg City Radio blog, I decided to listen to Bad Religion’s entire discography (not counting the new The Dissent of Man, which I’ve still yet to hear), including EPs and live albums, in chronological order during this past week. I’d heard most, but not all, of these albums before and listening to them in swift succession has made me like and respect them that much more. Greg Graffin is a phenomenal vocalist and lyricist, but it’s only on the albums with co-songwriter and guitarist Brett Gurewitz present that Bad Religion really shines. Punk purists will scoff at these comparisons, but based on their lyrical themes (religion, environmentalism, science, media control) in addition to their lengthy discography, they have more in common with Rush, King Crimson and Yes than a more casual observer might notice at first.
Bad Religion ‘80-‘85 (Epitaph)
As the title implies, this collects all of Bad Religion’s recordings save for Into the Unknown from 1980 to 1985, though not in chronological order. Wisely, it starts off with the excellent debut Lp How Could Hell Be Any Worse? and then goes to their debut 7”, the Back to the Known EP and their 3 cuts from the Public Service compilation. Even for those who may not like their later incarnation, this is essential for anyone who likes early to mid ’80s punk rock.
Bad Religion – Into the Unknown (Epitaph)
Clearly the black sheep of their entire catalog, this long out-of-print (the band has disowned it) 1983 album is about as punk as you could get in terms of completely going against the wishes of your audience. For those who demanded loud fast rules, instead they got an Lp that owed more to ’70s hard rock and prog (think later Hawkwind) complete with analog synths and the like. And for those who bothered to listen past the initial knee-jerk reactions, again Greg Graffin‘s vocals and the indelible melodies distinguish this from attempts by many other bands to mine the same territory. It’s finally available again now, but only as part of a collectors style vinyl box set that encompasses every full-length Lp.
Bad Religion – Suffer (Epitaph)
Although they would hit slightly higher peaks later, this 1988 comeback special is for all intents and purposes the blueprint of their entire subsequent career. The rules are established. Fast songs, usually no more than two minutes long, but jam-packed with 3-part harmonies, hooks so catchy that a beluga whale could be caught and as an important antidote to the melody, righteous and indignant but never less than intelligent lyrics that sometimes require a dictionary and/or thesaurus to decipher. Plus, this was the first Bad Religion album to be recorded at Brett Gurewitz‘s Westbeach Recorders studio and the production is just raw enough, but still amazingly clear-sounding. Excellent.
Bad Religion – No Control (Epitaph)
This is mine and many others’ favorite Bad Religion album and for good reason. The Suffer template is improved upon as songs like “I Want to Conquer the World”, the title track and “Change of Ideas” are some of their very best. Another key track, though, is “Sanity”. Establishing a second type of Bad Religion song, their version of a power ballad, this is the blueprint for later classics from “Faith Alone” to “Infected” and even up to “Broken”.
Bad Religion – Against the Grain (Epitaph)
This 1990 album is again, the favorite of a lot of folks, and honestly between this one and No Control, I have a hard time choosing myself. Bad Religion are at the absolute peaks of their power here both musically and lyrically as songs like “Modern Man,” “21st Century Digital Boy” (a riff on King Crimson‘s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, another sign that Graffin and Gurewitz are two old prog-heads underneath the punk exterior) and the amazing “Faith Alone” (their best slow song ever) demonstrate.
Bad Religion – Generator (Epitaph)
When this came out during my junior year of high school, I was already a huge fan. Its slower pace was initially a disappointment to my ears, but over time this one grew on me and now I consider it to be one of their best. Songs like “The Answer” show them reaching for a new, slower, more melodic direction that they would explore more heavily on Recipe for Hate. However, they didn’t skimp on the fast ones, either, as songs like the amazing title track, “Atomic Garden” and “No Direction” demonstrate. Notably, this is the first Bad Religion album to feature erstwhile but long-running drummer Bobby Schayer, who would remain with the band until 2000’s The New America.
Bad Religion – Recipe for Hate (Epitaph/Atlantic)
When this came out in 1993, I was disappointed with it and it made me lose interest in Bad Religion for almost a decade. Looking back on it now, though not one of my favorites, this is far from a bad album. “American Jesus” and “Modern Day Catastrophists” are two of their best and songs like “Watch It Die” and “Man on a Mission” further demonstrate the more melodic direction that they started on Generator.
Bad Religion – The Process of Belief (Epitaph)
OK, I know what you’re probably thinking. Where’s the Atlantic era? To be honest, though all of these albums are good to very good, I find this to be their weakest period. Though Greg Graffin’s vocals and lyrics are excellent and put the band several steps above most others from the same time period, big name producers like Ric Ocasek and Todd Rundgren (whose productions for artists like The New York Dolls, The Psychedelic Furs, Cheap Trick and XTC are huge favorites of mine) just didn’t suit their sound well. The absence of Brett Gurewitz hurt, too, as Graffin was forced to step up and do just about all of the songwriting on their last 3 Atlantic albums.
With all that said, 2002’s The Process of Belief was an absolutely stunning return to form. It’s my favorite Bad Religion record of the last 18 years. All of it is great, though “Broken,” “You Don’t Belong” and “The Defense” are songs I consider to be some of their very best. Having Gurewitz back in the fold helps a lot, not just with the songwriting, but also with the notably rawer and better-sounding production, a much better fit for the band.
American Lesion – American Lesion (Atlantic)
Honestly, I enjoy this one-off Greg Graffin solo project (and the first of his only two solo albums) from 1997 more than the Bad Religion records from the same time period. Perhaps given the very personal nature of much of its content (it’s essentially a concept album about his divorce), perhaps this is where his heart really was during this period. Musically, it owes way more to early ’70s Todd Rundgren, early ’80s Joe Jackson and even Ben Folds than anything Bad Religion did before or since. Given that I was also listening to Jackson and Folds a lot during the time when this came out, it was a natural fit. Unjustifiably ignored during its time and long out-of-print (and expensive) now, this gem needs to be reevaluated.
Bad Religion – 30 Years Live (Epitaph)
Earlier this year, Bad Religion released their second live album. Much better than 1997’s Tested, this one flows better and simply sounds better than its predecessor. Oh and it was only released as a free digital download on the band’s website back in May for a short time as a thank you to long-time fans.
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