|Review - Internet
|The few frills accumulated by Bad Religion over the last two decades have been trimmed on True North, the band’s 16th studio album.
Even some fans who consider themselves more engaged than casual will acknowledge that Bad Religion’s albums usually don’t arrive so much new as they do slightly reshuffled: the breakneck guitars, the runaway drums, Greg Graffin’s senatorial addresses. It’s a testament to the California punk veterans’ unwavering commitment that, 16 studio albums in, this formula remains familiar rather than tired.
It’s a formula that started out as a minor revolution. True North arrives with the story that the band set out to revisit the late-’80s/early-’90s albums that established Bad Religion as kings of melodic hardcore. Sure enough, even by the standards of this group, there’s a furious urgency to most of these 35 minutes, from the title track’s staccato guitar intro to Changing Tide’s final surge of harmonies. The few frills accumulated over the last two decades have been trimmed; this means we’re deprived of a bulletproof singalong to match Los Angeles Is Burning (from 2004’s career highlight The Empire Strikes First), but it also means we aren’t dealing with the classic-rock heroics that stretched parts of 2010’s The Dissent of Man out of shape.
True North may be elemental, but the album takes time to absorb, if only because of its full-throttle tempo. There are thrilling high-speed touches that barely register on first listen: the brutally efficient 12-second guitar solo in Land of Endless Greed; the thrash-speed drums battering down the door in My Head Is Full of Ghosts. Graffin’s typically polysyllabic discourse also rewards multiple listens: by the time you can mull over his thoughts on selective memory in Past Is Dead, he’s halfway into the 99-per-centers’ anthem Robin Hood in Reverse.
True-blue punk though these songs are in sound, many are folk songs in spirit. If they were slowed down and strummed, In Their Hearts Is Right and Dept. of False Hope could be campfire protests. The same can’t be said for the uncharacteristically profane F--- You, but this being Bad Religion, the song isn’t a coarse kiss-off, but an argument in favour of one.
The common complaint regarding this band — too samey — is silenced when it’s addressed. The two digressions on True North, conveniently sequenced back to back, are the two tracks that land with the graceless thud of an aging skateboarder. The pedestrian rocker Dharma and the Bomb, sung by guitarist Brett Gurewitz, lacks the usual lyrical clarity and musical purpose. The plodding Hello Cruel World is almost a minute longer than any other number here, at an ungodly 3:50. It feels like 5:50. Surely it isn’t an accident of sequencing that the breathless subsequent track, Vanity, restores order by barely breaching the one-minute mark.
True North ends with a pair of songs from polar perspectives: stasis (The Island) and evolution (Changing Tide). The former may represent Bad Religion musically, but the latter is in line with the ideals touted by the band. As long as there are evils both real and philosophical that require an impassioned, quick response, it’s a comfort to know Bad Religion is around to deliver one.
Podworthy: Dept. of False Hope
3.5 / 5
- Jordan Zivitz
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
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Interview image(s) added: Diplomatic Defense
Interview added: Diplomatic Defense
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Interview added: Bad Religion, the ‘McCartney and Lennon of punk,’ to make Spokane debut
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