Remember the days when underground bands that signed to major labels were ‘sell outs’?
There seems to be a rise in nostalgia for this period, as things seemed to be much simpler and clear-cut back then.
Of course, that isn’t the slightest bit true. But it’s easy to see why this viewpoint has become popular. Nowadays, no one blinks when the likes of Saint Vitus and Corrosion of Conformity release free EP’s through Scion (a division of Toyota).
Bad Religion deserves some credit/blame for these strange circumstances.
Underground Californian hardcore legends that sang three part harmonies,
their pop/hardcore sensibilities would see them sign to Atlantic in 1993. Backlash from the “punk police” (as singer Greg Graffin puts it) had little effect, as the likes of ‘21st Century Digital Boy’ quickly became an MTV anthem.
Punk rock blew up as a result of this, and we got the likes of Green Day and Blink 182. Not good.
Obviously, we can’t pin all of the blame on the Californian lads for the dross that is described as punk rock being played on the airwaves today. But with a steady stream of sterile and uninspired albums, Bad Religion looked to be an easy target: washed up, old and out of touch.
Clearly, some measures needed to be taken.
When writing ‘True North’, the band imposed a rule on themselves: no songs longer than three minutes. This has worked well, as it’s their best album since ‘Against the Grain.’
You know what to expect when you pick up a Bad Religion LP: Adolescents meets Buzzcocks guitars from three of the most famous guitarists to emerge from hardcore (Greg Hetson, Brian Baker and Brett Gurewitz), emotive singing and insightful lyrics from Graffin and plenty of “oozin’ aaahs” in the backing vocal department.
Because of this, it would be pointless to describe each track musically. So here’s a selection of highlights: the life affirming title track that begins proceedings. ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’ baits Sham 69 and religion/corporations in the lyrics. ‘Hello Cruel World’ is the sound of depressed suburban intellectuals covering the Stooges.
‘Fuck You’ is the undisputed highlight on here. It’s thrilling to hear the over analytical and, on occasions, dour Graffin admit that “sometimes it makes no sense at all. The easiest thing to do is say fuck you.” Everything about this song is crafted to perfection. A whole album of this, and we’d have been looking at a contender for album of the year.
However, Bad Religion are known for having quite a bit of filler on their LP’s, and it saddens me to report that ‘True North’ carries on this tradition. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the
likes of ‘The Island’ or ‘Dept. of False Hope’, they don’t get you pogoing the way that the other songs on here do.
What we’re left with is probably the first fun and enjoyable album of 2013. The sort that you put on when you’re getting ready to go out on the lash and act the mongo with your mates but also one that makes you think. It’s refreshing to hear intelligent, melodic pop punk without it being shallow or diabetic inducing.
Naturally, they’re not going to inspire a revolution at this stage in their career. But ‘True North’ shows that the onward march of age shouldn’t be a barrier to producing great music. By imposing limitations on themselves, they’ve come up with a solid and inspired album.
Don’t expect to see them on MTV (since they don’t play music anymore), but expect to see a rejuvenated band when they hit the live circuit.
3.9 / 5 Christopher Owens ::: 25/01/13