Thomas Paine, the 18th-century author of The Age of Reason, once claimed that arguing with someone who’d renounced the use of reason is as effective as “administering medicine to the dead or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”
Bad Religion, as its name suggests, has no interest in converting atheists. But on its new album, Age of Unreason, the L.A. pop-punk stalwart does share a similar exasperation with what Paine famously called the “times that try men’s souls.”
The album is the band’s first collection of new music in six years. Not surprisingly, it includes more than a few less-than-veiled references to our current commander in chief. “I don’t believe in Golden Ages, or presidents that put kids in cages,” sings frontman Greg Graffin in “End of History,” one of the album’s few songs to approach the three-minute mark.
But Bad Religion’s primary target isn’t President Donald Trump so much as that special combination of bigotry, nationalism and apathy that continues to enable him, which is part of the reason last year’s sarcastic shout-along single, “The Kids Are Alt-Right,” didn’t make it onto the album. That may come as a surprise to those who recall guitarist Brett Gurewitz’s widely circulated quote about the band having “an album’s worth of ‘F*** Trump’ songs” up its sleeve.
“I hope it’s not that singular,” said Bad Religion bassist, vocalist and co-founder Jay Bentley. “In my mind, using Trump as a metaphor works for many things, but historically we haven’t been too focused on any single individual. Because in 10 years’ time, who the f*** is gonna give a s*** about Donald Trump?”
Musically, the album finds the band working for the first time with Carlos de la Garza, the GRAMMY-winning producer whose recent credits include Paramore, Ziggy Marley and Cherry Glazerr. But the British punk and L.A. hardcore influences, which have worked so well for bands like Bad Religion and their less-cerebral Northern California counterparts, Green Day, are still very much in evidence. And Bentley, who holds the distinction of playing on all but two of the band’s 17 studio albums, is uncharacteristically enamored with the results.
“I’ve listened to it many times and that’s rare for me, because I don’t like us,” he said, only half joking. “And that’s because I’m in the band, so I’m too close. It’s really hard for me not to listen with that critical ear, instead of just enjoying it. So when I can just sort of tap my foot along and go, ‘Damn, this is good,’ that’s shocking to me. And this album is front-loaded with great songs, and then by the end, it’s just screaming.”
While Age of Unreason is best listened to loud, standout tracks like “Old Regime” and “What Tomorrow Brings” also showcase the three-part harmonies that Bad Religion originally modeled after their favorite Orange County punk band.
“If I’m to be brutally honest, we got all our ideas from watching The Adolescents, who were all phenomenal vocalists,” said Bentley. “We were also fans of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Elvis Costello and other music where background harmonies were important, which wasn’t so much the case in punk rock. So when we saw The Adolescents, we thought, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’ It just took us a long time to figure it out.”