The Dissent Of Man
Following the return of founding member, Epitaph label owner and co-songwriter, Brett Gurewitz, after the bands flirtation with the major label Atlantic, the duo of Graffin and Gurewitz have since written and recorded three albums: The Process of Belief, The Empire Strikes First, and New Maps of Hell, which have been regarded by fans and critics, and self proclaimed by the band as “The Unholy Trilogy: Part Two”; the original trilogy being: No Control, Suffer, and Against The Grain, which are known as the bands best output. Whilst the latter trilogy saw the band encapsulate the passion, energy, and conviction of their youthful punk-rock days, their latest release, a clever play on words, ‘The Dissent of Man’, represents a significant departure, coming across more as a mature rock album, something which they failed to do with the making of Into the Unknown, The New America, and No Substance. With some hit, and some miss, here is a run down of the tracks from the album:
One thing that the band have always managed to do is capture the mood of the time, and in this part of the epoch where global protest movements are making a significant return to humanities conscience, and the protestor was named Time Magazines person of the year, ‘The Dissent of Man’, with it’s front cover of an angry youth throwing an object in anger, perfectly encapsulates this period of modern history.
The album kicks off with ‘The Day The Earth Stalled’, which will no doubt ease in the casual Bad Religion listener, with a familiar fast-paced rhythm, combined with a catchy sing-along chorus, which is completed by the usual harmonious backing vocals. And then it starts to slow down, yet the lyrical content takes a classic Bad Religion trajectory.
‘Only Rain’ is a song about the rationality of atheism, a theme made prominent through singer Greg Graffin’s book ‘Anarchy Evolution’. Firstly he decries the old pre-scientific values of our ancestors by declaring, “Hey scientist please save us from our rainy days, because your counterpart in the magic arts is manufacturing judgement day”, and during the chorus lambasts the superstitious naturalists, who haven’t evolved to the scientific paradigm by declaring “rain fell like judgement, across my window pane, it felt like judgement, but it was only rain”: Here we feel Graffin being articulate, cutting, and poignant as ever.
The clever play on words returns with ‘The Resist Stance’, which, as is the case with The Day That The Earth Stalled, follows a more traditional Bad Religion song formula. It comes across as a rallying call to all those taking a stand against oppression, yet remains critical to the potential of an emerging dogma by proclaiming “the state of your resolve, makes you quickly devolve into a fundamentalist”. Hitherto, the album stands up to the test, and then it takes a turn for the worst.
No whilst the sentiments of the collusion between church and state echoed in the ‘Wont Somebody’ are welcome, despite being somewhat worn, an amendment to the chorus provides more insight into the song; “Wont Bad Religion please come up with something, because this formula don’t seem to be impartially appealing, and all of this song puts this album down in the ratings, so a good song we’ll have to keep on waiting.”
If a single was to be penned for release from this album, in order to capture the attention of the casual alternative music listener, then ‘The Devil in Stitches’ has all the hallmarks of a radio friendly, melodic, and catchy anthem full of great chord progressions. It was very difficult to attach a specific meaning to the song; Gurewitz’s lyrics are usually not as forthright as Graffins. According to those who love their computer and regularly post on the fan site, thebrpage.net, and Mr. Brett himself, it’s a modern love story based on a biblical tale. Whether you believe in love or not, you’ll certainly enjoy this song.
The dark side to social attitudes permeates in ‘Pride and the Pallor’, which covers the idea of superstitious and irrational behaviours originating from religious beliefs, being passed down through generations, and this spiralling out of control, leading to an ironically prophetic hellish existence for the human species.
‘Wrong Way Kids’ is a retrospective look at the Los Angeles punk-rock scene of the early 1980s, something that the band was very much involved with. The song draws parallels with ‘You Don’t Belong’, alluding to the wrong turns some people took in their lives, during the early days of punk rock. Themes of this calibre are almost inevitable for a band in their late forties, yet it is relinquished from becoming a grandeur act of self-importance by being doused with elements of humour, such as the line ” the kids today are gone away, petitioning the dust, with nobody to look up to, because they’re looking up to us””, and self-mockery, with the chorus making fun of their liberal use of ‘woahs’, goading the listener to “Singing woah, woah, wo-oo-ah”, a template copied over from their atrocious single ‘Honest Goodbye’ on their previous record.
There is a reason that so many academics are fans of the band, and this is due to Graffin’s lyrical ingenuity, often able to summarise a historical or sociological essay into a three-minute melodic harmony. ‘Meeting of the Minds’ is one of those songs, looking at the historical transformation of rational thought, starting in 325, through to Old Tennessee in the last century, and onwards to an idyllic futuristic fantasy of the intelligentsia and politicians coming together to come to the conclusion that “no longer will the market decide, what the government will provide”. Nobody can accuse them of becoming universal cynics; a healthy, radiant and optimistic outlook still remains in their old age.
‘Someone To Believe’ is about the weak willed members of society, the ones who ‘find’ God and ‘meaning’ in their life, the way in which their attitude and persona drastically change, which “feels like a spring equinox after a long winters sleep”. Imbeciles ‘awaken’ when they have someone [God] to believe.
Throughout ‘Anarchy Evolution’, Greg Graffin argues that evolution is an anarchic process, in which the human species has no control over, and this relates to the theme of the next song ‘Avalon’. It’s about the reflective phases that humans go through in their life, and the negative impact that focussing on past regrets can have. Yet this idea is flipped into a rallying call for people to not get caught up with the minutiae of the past, and instead look to the future and create your own Avalon, a place to be comfortable with when you die. This links into the theme of the book, it’s all too easy to look back on the travesty of human existence and take on a defeatist attitude, it’s better to create something ideal for the here and now.
Bad Religion have never shied away from producing a subtle song about heartache, yet none have come across as bitter as ‘Cyanide’, a four minute epic about being apart from a loved one, or in the case of Gurewitz, is the thing he describes as missing akin to kissing cyanide, a reference to his days as a heroin user? If I long for you it will make me return and deliver me to death? The bitterness is usurped when ‘Turn Your Back On Me’ kicks in on the next track, a beautifully sad, and brooding number.
And then the overt politics is back with a vengeance with ‘Ad Hominem’, a scornful attack on the bourgeoisie who think that they are divinely better than the poor. ‘Where The Fun Is’ is not even worth mentioning and is almost inevitable that it will be featured on the soon to be released ‘Worst of Bad Religion’ CD, entitled ‘How the hell could Bad Religion get any worse?’
As a rule of thumb, Bad Religion have always closed their albums with a strong and catchy number, yet ‘I Won’t Say Anything’ breaks with that tradition, and leaves it with a flat end to the proceedings. There isn’t the usual big bang, in which we expect from our atheist peacemakers, just a steady fade away into insignificance, perhaps a suitable prelude to our own species’ existence.
The Dissent of Man is still out on Epitaph Records.
- Lukas Schwarzbrennen