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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Bad Religion - Suffer

Bad Religion - Suffer
1988 Epitaph Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Bad Religion may be one of the first truly sophisticated punk bands. Everything about these guys was dialed-in and largely on-point from their scathing sociopolitical views that make albums such as No Control, Against the Grain, Recipe For Hate, Into the Unknown and of course Suffer some of the best (and largely cherished) catalog items in the genre's history.

It might also be because Bad Religion were rock-solid musicians with spit-shined aggression and strict production values. Distant from the grimy club fuzz of most of their peers, Bad Religion, like Social Distortion would eventually become, were near perfectionists. Their chord progressions were on-the-dime, their beats ceaseless and rhythmic and vocalist Greg Graffin possessed an angry charisma that alotted for disciplined melody. Best of all, Bad Religion had the tact to make their point on each song then get the hell out of it.

Sure, a lot of their albums sounded similar, but there was a rare comfort in familiarity, particularly when Bad Religion sounded so damned righteous in their dealings. When you have a cover like Suffer and a torched youth angrily confronting Conservative Suburbia, the message rings loud and clear, stamped authoritatively on songs like "How Much is Enough?" "When?" "1000 More Fools" and "Delirium of Disorder." Even as Suffer jumps the gun with their brazen political slag "You Are (The Government)," the intensity of accusation Bad Religion stakes is later hoisted a notch like a swift kick in the ass on "Give You Nothing." Punk rock at face value is supposed to proclaim angst, and a lot of that is left to be debated in today's revival scene, however "Give You Nothing" wields so much angst you can imagine the middle finger going straight up from Greg Graffin at the muse who instigated this venomous tirade.

In 1988 when Suffer came out, I was graduating high school and stuck in the zones of thrash, punk, hardcore and power metal. Perhaps because I was on the east coast I was more tuned in to the New York, Boston and DC punk scenes along with the British hardcore sect that filled my bedroom with the sounds of Agnostic Front, the Ramones, Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, All, Pailhead, Slapshot, Gang Green, Government Issue, Youth of Today, Bad Brains, GBH, The Exploited, Discharge, UK Subs, The Damned, Killing Joke, DOA (from Canada, of course), the Misfits, Cocksparrer and Broken Bones. Looking back at the places punk rooted itself, I tend to disseminate east coast and British punk as urban sprawled, working class choleria, while I look at the west coast punk and hardcore region as being generated from suburban disaffection.

Being from the west coast didn't make its punk rock any less urgent, when you consider the Dead Kennedys may be the most important punk band of all-time with Bad Religion not far from that distinction. Still, there's an air of silicone boredom cast from Los Angeles and Tinseltown that spills into the region's punk of the day like Angry Samoans, the Meatmen, Agent Orange, The Germs, Dr. Know, TSOL, The Adolescents, Circle Jerks, MDC, Suicidal Tendencies and DRI. On the other hand, Black Flag remains the angriest punk band ever to plug in and shriek for their worth, and not only is the intellect and furious delivery (not to mention his body sheath of tattoos) of Henry Rollins influential 20-plus years after the fact, we're beginning to hear more punk guitarists borrow from Greg Ginn, one of the genre's finest ever.

All territorialism aside, it took me awhile before Bad Religion got into my mits and that may have simply been a matter of submerging myself in so much music while preparing for college, yet all of the scenes I followed devoutly were starting to die out and I would ultimately get hipped to The Cure, Bauhaus, New Order, Depeche Mode and The Psychedlic Furs. By the time I heard Bad Relgion's No Control a short time later, I was blown away by their precision and their forthrightness. When Suffer got into my possession, I kicked myself for having inadvertently delayed my exposure. I was schooled by the best punk rockers I knew from 1986 on, but missing out on Bad Religion was something that made me wonder if it was my oversight or theirs.

I used to guffaw at DRI's ode to ennui "Couch Slouch" but when I heard Bad Religion take the same concept on Suffer with "Do What You Want" and broaden it with a fingerpointing jab stating get-off-your-ass-and-stop-whining, then suddenly for me, the picture was opened like widescreen presentation. For a brief time in my very busy life, I had no direction or clue what to do, much less wondering if it was worth living. The Ramones pulled me out of my rut and re-energized me, but a song like "Do What You Want" was so brutally honest and in retrospect I fully appreciate where Bad Religion were coming from.

Bad Religion of course grew to be unintentional darlings of the alternative rock scene, toasts of the town by the same crowd touting the Hoodoo Gurus, King Missile and Dinosaur, Jr. Some argue Bad Religion lost a portion of their urgency on 1992's Generator and 1994's Stranger Than Fiction but the band persevered and remained street icons, even recruiting Dag Nasty/Minor Threat/Junkyard guitarist Brian Baker into the fold. To this day, Bad Religion are considered old guard lions of a SoCal scene that has gotten monster hype these days from metalcore giants Avenged Sevenfold, Bleeding Through, Atreyu and Eighteen Visions. The area is also host to some of the coolest stoner and doom rock available today such as Fu Manchu and High On Fire. Still, none of it reflects what Bad Religion and their beach brethren established for punk rock in their time.

I had the chance to see Bad Religion live at the Warped Tour a few years ago and two things stick out in my mind. One, their apparent annoyance by the fact NOFX went over their half hour set by roughly seven minutes due to impromptu stage cameos from other bands looking to get in on the NOFX shenanigans Fat Mike was swirling in his usual demeanor. Secondly, the thing that sticks in my mind with Bad Religion in the mid 2000s was that they were the class elite of the entire show, even though The Damned had put on an amazing spectacle themselves that the hoity toity young hipsters were too ignorant to give the time of day for. Bad Religion had only 23 minutes to play, but they wasted not a lick of it on crowd banter and they whipped up a tsunami of punk excitement that only Flogging Molly, Tiger Army and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were within reach of matching.

Classy to the end, Bad Religion stopped on their cue, though a massive crowd had arrived to see them, and to me, that leave 'em wanting more ethic (reflected on their vintage albums as well) is a statement of their prowess. One of the other bands to play Warped that year, Millencolin, put on a hell of a set of their own, and their presence is testament to all that Bad Religion laid down for them to run with later. That, my friends, is what you might call progressive punk...

1 comment:

Schizo said...

Dead Kennedys is the most important punk band of all-time but may be it is not the best :)