Bad Religion, Lately

If I had the guts, I might offer my Spotify workout playlist as evidence in some voluntary psychoanalytics study - mostly to see what the hell goes on in my head during a typical run or lifting session. I’m curious because aside from each track’s elevated bpm - the only real aspect thematizing the list is an deep and (this is crucial and weird) a seemingly undiminishable love for every song. More than once I’ve jumped rope for about an hour while ‘Shred and Transcend’ looped on repeat - which works out to about 18 or 20 consecutive plays; I’ve been in the middle of squat sets when Teenage Jesus & The Jerks’ blood-cry “Orphans” gave way to Childish Gambino’s “Sunrise;” and, when I’m struggling up the last quarter mile of a huge hill, I know to switch to “Bodies,” or “ Who’s Got The Crack?,” or “Levels.” It’s a big deal for me when a new track enters this vault; I workout every day - there’s a good chance I’ll hear it once or twice a week for rest of my life.

Anyway - if I choose to listen at random, I’m assured only that I’ve got the appropriate score to keep my legs and/or arms moving at the rate I want. I’m not promised anything like emotional continuity, particularly since most of these tracks aren’t just evocative but come slathered in four coats of nostalgia. I’m getting tugged everywhere.

Bands and artists from my adolescence sort of overrun the back catalog: Anti-Flag appears three times; Gogol Bordello, three; Nirvana, two; Kanye, two; Outkast, three; Bad Religion, four. The only mechanism built into this process that keeps me from reliving the existential nightmare of my teens over and over on a stationary bike is a tendency to skip bands I’ve already heard that day. So, despite their numbers, none of these guys dominate Rilo Kiley or Saint Etienne or Azealia Banks - the more recent obsessions.

Maybe that’s the only reason I’ve been spared, until earlier this week, the epiphany that one of these songs really really doesn’t belong - Bad Religion’s “Supersonic.” There’s nothing wrong with the track in principle - a short four-chord power pop gun clocked at 175 bpm, drums and Graffin up front and pissed. But it’s also the first, uh, punk rock song I ever listened to. I might the the only person who can say this, really - that the opening track to a forgotten album in Bad Religion’s mostly forgotten second (actually third or fourth) act as an outfit was the first punk rock song I’d ever heard.

In deference to perfect concision, I’m going to quote two wicked sharp older guys to convey just what hearing “Supersonic” as a twelve year old felt like after years spent exhausting Nelly’s debut and the discography of System of a Down: it (Bruce Springsteen) “sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind” and filled with (Jeffrey Melnick) “something strange becoming something absolutely essential to my well being.”

Yeah. And I totally relived that shit with a hundred pounds of barbell perched a foot above my skull.

Anyway, once I gathered myself, I decided to leave the gym and play The Process of Belief in full on the way to buy some weekend beer. New age, new city, new ideas, friends, blood-alcohol level - didn’t matter. It sounded perfect - as perfect probably as the first time I let it rile me up about Kyoto and the vague scandal of war and the remaining undergrad gentility Greg Graffin distills here into teenage pop syrup.

Since, I’ve heard it a few more times, read whatever review archives are still around from 2002, and reacquainted myself with their catalogue. I’ve learned two things: one, this album ain’t actually perfect - too often they’re guilty of confusing tempo downshifts and nifty studio noise with empathy, and that undergrad gentility could use a graduate class. But two - the critical community that sorta gave up on these guys around the time Brett Gurewitz did (and really gave up when he changed his mind) got indefensibly lazy with the annual middling-to-negative dispatch.

Every BR devotee has heard the line “Their new songs all sound the same!” (and we also know two fantastic comebacks: “Well that one song sounds pretty awesome” and “Fuck you”). But what this devotee didn’t know was some permutation of “Their new songs all sound the same,” revamped and updated constitutes most of what journalists want to say about them anymore - those few journalists anyway who work for zines still interested in Bad Religion after thirty-four years (point of fact: there aren’t many).

I thought I’d redress this with a homebrew comp Epitaph will never admit to wanting to release: The Bunch of Late Catalogue Bad Religion Songs That Sound Kinda Different (And Pretty Good, Too) Comp

1. Overture - think Tricky meets Metallica, but better

2. Sinister Rouge - Beatles grindcore sonnet with some great lines (“Child molesters and Jesuits / Holding secret conference / Underneath the pontiff’s nose / And only God will ever know”)

3. 52 Seconds - Like listening to the last song through a dial-up connection through a tin can.

4. Heroes and Martyrs - Maybe a more generic power pop - but this refrain is gorgeous; maybe their best.

5. Sorrow - Reggae. Uh, that’s it.

6. Ten in 2010 - Great solo in the midst of a track that otherwise strips naked their much-maligned tendency to triple harmonize ooohs and ahhhs - with some creepy studio shit to give it dimension.

7. Los Angeles Is Burning - Probably their most popular track of the 00s - and for good reason. Meticulously engineered to rework their typical sound into a brand new texture and drive that’s harder to describe than hear.

8. The Defense - more industrial creep and echo to match maybe their most compelling lyrics. Flirts at the kind of interference fugues fully realized in the final two tracks; their two best.

9. Beyond Electric Dreams

10. Infected