Bad Religion directs political and societal angst with ‘True North’
When your band has been around for more than 30 years—still touring successfully and putting out quality music since 1979 — you must be doing something right. Bad Religion decided there is no reason to reinvent the wheel on their 16th studio album; that is why you hear familiar punk music reverberating from start to finish on “True North,” the follow-up to 2010’s “The Dissent of Men,” released Jan. 22 via Epitaph Records.
Straight out of the gate, “True North” hits the listener with a guitar-driven triple-threat and fierce drumming that leads one to think Brett Gurewitz (guitar, backing vocals), Brian Baker (guitar), Greg Hetson (guitar) and Brooks Wackerman (drums) are attempting to trump each other’s speed and technical prowess.
While the title track, “True North,” is a rapid assault that discusses cheating death and finding your moral compass, Bad Religion has also made room for politics. “Robin Hood in Reverse,” the album’s third song, is a narrative detailing the Occupy Wall Street movement from the perspective of one in favor of wealth redistribution and justice in the United States. Gurewitz tells Revolver magazine that the song is “about the Occupy movement and the new climate of xenophobia brought on by the Tea Party.”
The album’s first single, “F— You,” is filled with passion, bursts of energy and gang vocals. Jay Bentley (bass, backup vocals) can be heard furiously pounding his bass guitar and participating in those gang vocals throughout the track. Gurewitz, again speaking to Revolver, said this song would bring them back into good graces within the hardcore community.
“It really goes for the jugular,” Gurewitz said of the single. “I think it also sends the signal out there to people that we made a punk record again.”
Greg Graffin, who graduated with a doctorate in philosophy from Cornell University, usually handles lead vocals, but he handed the torch to Gurewitz on one particular song. “Dharma and the Bomb” is one track that really stands out on this album. The song’s lyrics are poetic and they give the listeners an opportunity to interpret the song for themselves.
The simple song structures and jabs at social and religious issues are standard when making a punk album — and don’t expect any vocal miracles. The singing is pretty cut-and-dry and mostly used to tell a story rather than demonstrate vocal range or ability.
The tracks may seem uncharacteristically short for a listener not acquainted with the fast, hard pace of punk. Of 16 tracks, only one clocks in over the three-minute mark. But the collection of songs packs a mean punch, leaving no room for filler material. As a result, the listener is served only the finest meat and the heartiest of potatoes.
The album ends on a puzzling note with “Changing Tide,” and listeners can only hope the lyrics are not a cryptic farewell message aimed at the fans.
“Realizing all your most cherished beliefs are subject to rot and mold,” Graffin sings. The band decides to end the song with the chorus, “Brothers say goodbye/Sisters don’t you cry. All embrace the times/Wade into the changing tide.”
Perhaps the band is signaling a major change for themselves, or maybe they’re simply giving the listener something concrete in which to relate. Or maybe, the band is leaving this one as something that can be open for interpretation. Make up your own ending, that’s the punk thing to do.