This album takes me back to the good old days of tape-trading… collecting bootlegs of metal and punk shows that were recorded on dictaphones hidden in hats under the threat of no small amount of violence if you were ever caught doing so in many of the venues of the time, as all the gig security types of the time (thugs to a man, with the exception of the lovely crew that Acid Reign used to insist on bringing with them to every show) seemed to have read Peter Grant’s approach to gig recorders and enjoyed every second of it. Once a meagre collection had been sourced through friends, it was off to the photocopier with said list (including ratings for sound quality – one used to get told off if this was missing) followed by a swift jaunt to the back pages of Metal Forces to find like-minded people to trade equally muffled recordings and cement friendships. Sort of a bit like the internet, but a version of it that took weeks and that was oddly more rewarding for finding that person with a decent-quality Celtic Breakfast demo who was prepared to swap for a couple of early Blind Illusion recordings when Dave Godfrey was still with them before he sodded off to Heathen…
Anyway, the common courtesy associated with this sort of thing was to fill up what space remained on any C90s with a track or two of something or other in order to spread the word of -insert generally obscure but good* band here- which is how word got spread about quality independent acts back then. All a bygone era now of course, but it was fun.
Steering dangerously close to the subject in hand, I once received a tape containing a Danzig show, and a few other bits and bobs. Two of the bobs in question were I Want to Conquer the World and Henchman, from Bad Religion’s No Control album, and I was hooked instantly to the point where I don’t think I ever listened to anything else on that 90-minute tape ever again, just listening and rewinding over and over again to those golden three and a half minutes. And to this day, it remains one of my favourite albums of any genre, because it’s unique in that it still moves me in almost exactly the same fashion as it did twenty years ago.
As mentioned elsewhere in these pages, the period spanning the arse-end of the 1980s and arse-beginning of the 1990s was such an incredibly exciting time for me, discovering new music seemingly everywhere I turned and an endless array of friends, record store staff and more friends willing to share their own discoveries and ideas. I had started to amass a nice little pile of punk-related vinyl (or, as I like to call it now, my Pension Plan), and much as I enjoyed the visceral anger of it all, a lot of it either didn’t speak to me (who had a nice upbringing in a nice area and so, while aware of the issues, had little experience of them) or didn’t answer any of the questions that my young adult mind was starting to ask when I started realising that there was little I could do to make the world in general a much nicer place.
And No Control is perfect for this mindset. It’s certainly brash and vital, but there is a level of thought here that I had never encountered in any record I had previously heard (and rarely after). The intelligence at the heart of each song is apparent in the use of language doesn’t patronise the listener, and the aggression in Greg Graffin’s quickly-delivered yet clearly-enunciated vocals is controlled to the point where on the occasions when he swears, it’s quite surprising to hear – which is a sentiment quite singular when listening to any punk record.
It’s not a cheery album by any stretch of the imagination, despite a musical performance that feels more upbeat than their peers and a vocal style that employs folky harmonies. The central theme is that of the futility of the existence of the individual which is a sentiment we all try to avoid thinking about whenever possible, but parallel to this is a second idea that this isn’t necessarily something we should be worried about. The aforementioned I Want to Conquer the World is a great example of this, as on one hand it seems to crush any notion of any one person wishing to bring peace and harmony to the world, but on the other it accepts and somehow celebrates the desire in us to have a go anyway. the flipside to this is Henchman, where a simple idea is offered (“do what no-one else does, and praise the good of other men for good men’s sake”) but concedes that not enough people will ever do this.
So, all seemingly a bit depressing then. Or at least that’s show it looks on first viewing. The truth that lurks beneath the surface though is that it doesn’t really matter, so there’s little point in getting down about it all. Which is a cheery thought once you’ve got to grips with that old devil Mortality. There’s no judgement, no ill will, just “here’s how it is, get up and get on with it”, even during some rather gritty subject matter as is the case with Billy, chronicling the decline of someone though heroin addiction. The only time where the mood really turns is during You, which is a surprising song on No Control, as the narrative flips from the global to the personal view of a love turned sour, but nonetheless it fits quite nicely in with the rest of the album, giving an odd sense of perspective to the surroundings.
No Control is an album that I’ve grown up with, and while I’ve not followed Bad Religion’s career as fervently as I did when I was younger, this is something that, despite its somewhat bleak exterior, has a strangely reassuring heart (once you stop freaking out at the realisation that you are going to die) and added a healthy layer of pessimism to my outlook which I like to think has given my worldview a balance that I wish the sort of people who write into newspaper website opinion sections could grasp.