Bad Religion, deep stuff

Posted by Eric Shapiro

Bad Religion hasn't changed much over the years. The band deals mostly with politics and religion, but not in the simplistic, juvenile way that one might associate with similar groups. No, it's all about the hooks and the lyrics.

Sure, the members have supplemented their meat-and-potatoes punk rock assault with elements of psychedelia, hard rock and heavy metal since their 1982 debut LP "How Could Hell be Any Worse." But stylistic diversity really isn't the point.

"The Dissent of Man," which incidentally marks the band's 30th anniversary, is no exception. Aside from having a crisper production than the band's early 1980s albums, the new album doesn't sound all that different than earlier entries in a substantial discography.

It's apparent that frontman Greg Gaffin has progressed greatly as a lyricist. His rants have almost always been intelligent, but his earlier songwriting bore the unmistakable scent of angst.

Now, he's matured in the best possible sense of the term. The music is still just as energetic and youthful as ever, albeit more refined, but the preacher wailing over the frantic power chords clearly knows what he's talking about.

But, I'll admit that sometimes I don't, especially when he tackles metaphysical poetry, like in the first track, "The Day the Earth Stalled:" "Friction, bonds, and gravity, all harmonic motion ceased/Life itself could not maintain from that singularity/Try to withstand a magnetic storm with no one to keep you warm/Waiting for the rest to fall, since the day that the earth stalled."

Deep stuff, of the kind that rewards repeated listening. I've probably heard "The Dissent of Man" 10 times and I'm still pondering what some of the songs mean. That's the sign of great songwriting; if it were too dense, I would have given up a long time ago, yet if it was too direct I would have bristled at the preaching and moved on to something else.

Sure, there are the requisite songs about the dangers of blind faith and organized religion, but they're phrased in a tactful way that respects the listener's intelligence.

"Rain fell like judgment/across my windowpane/said it fell like judgment/But it was only rain," goes the chorus of "Only Rain," one of the standout tracks on the album.

Not every song is concerned with such lofty subject matter. Lead single "The Devil in Stitches" tackles the comparatively mundane topic of a dysfunctional relationship, but biblical allusions elevate the subject matter to semi-epic proportions. The tempo is a little bit slower than a typical Bad Religion number; think slightly amped-up power pop.

But again, we're talking about a group whose lyrics take precedence over form, so don't expect anything fancy. Sturdy melodies, occasional harmonies and chord progressions provide a solid foundation for great songwriting.

As long as bands like Bad Religion consistently release music as vital and exciting as this, it's hard to really say that punk rock is dead.

Eric is a junior who loves rock music in all forms. You may see him around campus in a band T-shirt listening to his iPod and looking unapproachable, but rest assured he is quite friendly and will usually only attack when provoked.

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