|Category:||Review - Internet||Publish date:||3/5/2002|
The Process Of Belief
by Rob Mitchum
pitchfork.com, March 5, 2002
I know what you expect from this review, and you should be ashamed of yourself. None of you readers are actually sitting there thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if that new Bad Religion album is worth buying. I'll see what Pitchfork says about it." Of course not. You're all like a bunch of sharks circling around a freshly thrown bucket of chum. You want to see blood. You want to see gore. You want to see your friendly neighborhood elitist thoroughly skewering a band long past its prime.
Well, tough. I'm not gonna give it you. And I do this not out of any moral or ethical standard, but rather because I am a Writer of Fine Literature disguised as humble little record reviews, and resorting to such a predictable course is beneath me.
Sure, The Process of Belief serves up enough Slo-Pitch softballs for me to spend a thousand words hitting wiseacre home runs. This is, after all, a band of fortysomethings playing music more appropriate to kids struggling with puberty and Algebra. It's an album where the first entity thanked in the liner notes is "all punks everywhere." It's an album with a song called "Kyoto Now!" which actually, honest to god, contains a "Turning Japanese" Oriental-style riff and the lyric, "You might not think there's any wisdom in a fucked up punk rock song."
But you know, I find it strangely reassuring that Bad Religion sounds exactly the same as when I last heard them, sometime around 1994's Stranger Than Fiction. Now, this could be because The Process of Belief marks the return of guitarist "Mr." Brett Gurewitz from behind his executive's desk at Epitaph, but I kinda don't think so. Like death and taxes, one thing you can count on in this world is that most Bad Religion songs are going to use a combination of rapid-fire power chords, snare and bass-heavy drums, 25¢-word machine gun vocals, and those creepy synthetic-sounding harmonies.
Honestly, if you can turn off your frontal lobe and forget that you've heard songs like this forty or fifty times before from Bad Religion, there's a few piping hot tracks to be found in The Process of Belief. On occasion, Gurewitz and singer Greg Graffin continue to show strong hook-writing ability, as with the front-loaded old-school drag racers "Supersonic" and "Can't Stop It." And if you slowed down "Evangeline" to half-speed, the result would be the best Weezer song of the last six years.
Furthermore, nothing makes a case for Bad Religion sticking to their thematic guns like the sporadic (and rather hilarious) attempts to stretch their sound. The reggae-punk of "Sorrow," for example, hasn't been considered adventurous since around the time of my birth late in the Carter administration. Obvious pleas for radio play, like the mid-tempo and acoustic-flavored "Broken," make you feel a little sorry for the band and their memories of brief mid-nineties alt-rock stardom (sing it: "You and me-ee/ Have a disea-ease!")
Most of the album, however, is indistinguishable from anything post-No Control, and sounds like it could've been released any time in the last twelve years of the band's history. The question would be, then, is the Bad Religion formula still relevant? I'm going to take a shocking stance here and say, "Yup." Hear me out.
Back when I was concerned about such things, I used to have a theory that punk rock split, at some undetermined point, into two camps: goofy punk about girls and food (i.e. the Descendents) and political punk about socialism and governmental corruption (i.e. Bad Religion). Over the past few years, it's become apparent that the goofy punks won, with the Green Day/Blink-182/Sum 41 lineage remaining the only commercially viable branch on the punk rock family tree. Political punk, as far as I know, has all but disappeared (is Propagandhi still around?), leaving only its great grandpappy to carry the torch for educating our nation's youth about petrochemical conspiracies.
Therefore, I think discovering Bad Religion and their Chomsky for Dummies rhetoric is an important experience for a youth in his/her formative musical years. Sure, their politics are a little flimsy and idealistic (the line "when all soldiers lay their weapons down" would make even a 1967 Haight-Ashbury drum circle queasy), but Graffin's lyrics at least can plant questions in a seventh grader's brain more profound than whether that girl in study hall likes him. And it's all delivered in the kind of sugar-high sonic package that speaks most directly to the age range in question.
So buy a copy of The Process of Belief for your little brother, or niece, or Boy Scout Troop. Chances are, they'll probably enjoy it a lot more than Fennesz, and you'll be setting them on a path towards heightened musical and political awareness. Bad Religion, I salute you.
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Article image(s) added: Metal Hammer February 2002