Bad Religion - The Gray Race (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Bad Religion

The Gray Race (1996)

Atlantic


In 1996, Bad Religion released The Gray Race, their first album without founding member Brett Gurewitz, who had left the band the year before due to the growing popularity of his own record label Epitaph. He would be replaced by Brian Baker, who at that point was best known for his work in Washington DC’s punk scene. There are noticeable differences between, which had already existed on their previous release Stanger than Fiction, this and the band’s Epitaph days. The band had nearly completed the transition from a hardcore band that understands song structure, to a band that was writing rock songs that were heavily influenced by punk rock. Another noticeable difference was the change in lyrical tone on the album, while Greg Graffin had always had a larger vocabulary than many of his peers, the absence of Gurewitz allowed for the lyrics to become dressed up in metaphor and less direct than they were previously. While many at the time felt this meant the band had abandoned its ideals, on some level at least, I think they just changed their tactical approach to approaching those ideals.

                With all of that said, this was definitely a transitional album for the band. The last time they recorded an album without Gurewitz they released Into the Unknown, which is something the band disregarded as part of their history until just recently. The band was also coming out of their classic era; they’d spent the past decade releasing albums that would be at home in anyone’s “Punk Rock Starter Kit.” These albums were all very tuneful melodic hardcore music done at some of the highest levels it has ever been done. However, the band needed to grow in order to survive and they’d been taking steps towards the sound captured on this album since 1993’s Recipe for Hate.

                While a completed metamorphosis in sound and losing a prominent voice in the band’s creative process aren’t nails in any band’s coffin. When they occur, within a relatively close time frame, it can lead to the band’s next album becoming more guarded in its approach. Which, is what time has shown was the case with this album. It’s not so much the sound of regression, as it is that ever so clichéd perfect storm of bad circumstances that lead to a band putting out a less than stellar album.

                Of course there are good tracks on this album; Greg Graffin is a good songwriter. He’s also just a very formula based songwriter, and it was vital that he had Mr. Brett there to add his own flourishes and balance the Graffin numbers out with his own. It’s no surprise then, that some of the best songs on the album are numbers that newcomer Brian Baker had a hand in writing. The title track is a great album opener because it does set the tone for the rest of the album musically speaking. Other Baker contributions, “Nobody Listens,” “Spirit Shine,” and “Streets of America” add just enough outside influence to Graffin’s signature sound to keep the album moving.

                There were two singles, that did well, off this album too, “A Walk” and “Punk Rock Song” the former of which has always been one of my least favorite Bad Religion songs. Hearing it again, especially within the other tracks on the album, I’m given a better idea as to why. It sounds like a single in the worst sense of the word, it’s the least substantive and most by the numbers track on the whole album. The other single, “Punk Rock Song” doesn’t fare much better content wise. But, the very nature of the song almost makes you wonder if that was the band’s intent with this one. To simply write something that is just a punk rock song.

                All in all, this isn’t the worst album of Bad Religion’s acknowledged career, I would opt “No Substance” holds that title. This album was just bogged down by too much change all at once. So, they played it safe for one album as they transitioned into the new lineup and sound and came to terms with the loss of a prominent member of their once might songwriting team. It certainly has its high points and at the end of the day holds is the strongest of the Bad Religion albums without Brett Gurewitz. But, this is not the first album most Bad Religion fans talk about when discussing their favorites and it will certainly never hold the importance to a culture or a genre as the albums that came