It’s been six years since Bad Religion’s 2013 album, True North, and about six years since their 2013 novelty Christmas EP, Christmas Songs, making this the longest gap between two Bad Religion albums ever, the previous longest gap being between the recalled Into the Unknown and Suffer five years later, but even then the band released the Back to the Known EP about halfway between those two LPs. Aside from that, Bad Religion has averaged a new album every two to three years since around 1988. To put that into perspective, that means that Greg Graffin didn’t take this long of a break from putting out music while working on his Master’s Degree, his PhD, or even his PhD dissertation, nor did he take this long of a break when teaching at UCLA or at Cornell. As someone who made it halfway through her PhD program before getting kicked out, trust me when I say that recording albums while working on a PhD would be a logistical nightmare. Admittedly, Graffin released a solo album in 2017, but it being his third solo album, it’s also true that he didn’t take as much time off from Bad Religion for either of his two previous solo albums. So, all in all, while a six-year gap between albums may be standard for some bands, it’s shockingly out of the norm for Bad Religion.
So what did those six years of waiting give us in the new Bad Religion album? For the first Bad Religion album of the Trump Era, Trump’s name is not mentioned once, but the album sure as hell is about him, as evidenced by Trump buzz phrases being dropped into the lyrics like “alternative facts,” “kids in cages,” and “the art of the deal.” Songs like “Chaos from Within” and “Do the Paranoid Syle” may not be direct shots at Trump, but they certainly address the mob mentality that created the cult of Trump supporters. It’s not easy after nearly 40 years as a band and 17 albums to produce a song that belongs amongst the band’s greatest hits, but “Do the Paranoid Style” is definitely one of those songs, being a clever take on the format of old dance songs with a punk backbone, attacking not just Trump supporters but conspiracy theorists in a wider sense, as well. “My Sanity” is still a political song, but takes a very personal approach to politics, reflecting on how it affects one person (presumably Graffin) personally.
When I talked to some other Punknews staffers about how I wasn’t sure how I felt about the album yet, one person responded “I haven’t heard it but I'm sure you could just say ‘it sounds just like everything from the past 15 years. 6/10.’” But that’s hardly the case. The changes to the band’s sound are subtle, but they’re all over the album. While there’s plenty of classic Bad Religion style on this album, with plenty of the normal fare of Graffin showing off his singing skills while the lyrics are peppered with highly intellectual words that the average punk fan isn’t necessarily going to understand, there’s plenty of great stylistic innovations on this album. Probably the most obvious is “Big Black Dog” that lays a dance beat under punk chords, and, surprisingly, it works. “Downfall” has some vague surf elements mixed with some good old-fashioned pop-punk. “Candidate” starts out with a beautiful folk opening, perhaps a hold over from Graffin’s solo country album, and keeps that slow, steady style throughout as the band harmonizes throughout the song.
So while Bad Religion’s forays into new territory may be subtle, they’re certainly there, and it’s commendable to see a nearly 40 year old band still trying to find ways to innovate and make their sound fresh and new. I know that I’ll catch some grief for this, but I honestly would call this the best Bad Religion album since The Empire Strikes First, and a sign of a revitalized band that’s ready to start making some more great music again.