What a strange week this is panning out to be. All excited about a new year, and both new albums I’ve received so far this week are from bands I used to listen to 20 years ago. This Is No Bad Thing. Mostly because I can one again revel in my own daily little triumphs over Growing Up, but also because it’s a genuine thrill to see and hear those people who brightened up my youth still doing the same now, even if there was a long period in between when we all sodded off and did our own things as we tend to do as young adults. This, I’m led to believe, is the natural course of things, but that’s not to say that when paths recross and I find myself going “right, I’m going to buy this one” for no real reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, it turns out that the resulting purchase was a bit of a winner.
I have to admit that the last Bad Religion album I remember buying was No Substance, although The Gray Race was the last one I really got into. And then I went off and did something else for what the Internet reliably informs me was almost 15 years. How it flies, eh? Anyway, the intervening period doesn’t seem to have done either of us much harm as True North is as harmonic, angry and footsure as ever.
There’s something strangely reassuring to gaze upon the back cover before playing this for the first time and see that almost all of the sixteen tracks on offer are varying degrees of shortness – Bad Religion’s strength of making their points succinctly continues apace, and it takes less than five seconds of the titular opener to realise that This Is A Bad Religion Album, the band’s stock-in-trade flying out of the speakers as it always has done: precise, fast and tuneful. And it’s not long (the second track in fact, Past Is Dead) where vocalist Greg Graffin chimes up with that “watcho” noise that is as much a ubiquitous part of a Bad Religion album as the backing “oozin’ ahhs” and the ever-charming “Your Name Here” blank section of their album credits.
So yeah, there’s a bit of a formula being worked here. But as this band have worked harder than most to set themselves apart (musically and intellectually) from their peers, if it sounded any different it’d be a bit strange. And in a musical age where the older punks have been overtaken by a host of acts desperate to be famous rather than merely be heard, Bad Religion’s familiar, sensible secularity and single-minded desire to have their say at their own pace and in their own style makes for a refreshing change, simply by remaining true to themselves and their way of working.
They are not completely rigid in their vision though – although everything here is most definitely them, there is still room for some flexibility. Crisis Time in particular allows for a bit of movement within their modus operandi, Greg sending his surprisingly unaged vocals slightly off the beaten track to bring new melody into the mix, as with closer Changing Tide, continuing another fine BR tradition of ending albums with some genuinely exciting vocal harmonies.
Like finding an old pair of jeans that you forgot you had and finding that not only do they still fit, there was also five quid in there from a bygone era, True North is another quality entry in Bad Religion’s canon and one that older fans will embrace (while going on about it not being quite up there with their Suffer/No Control/Against The Grain zenith as if anything possibly could be) and that the curious newcomer will enjoy as an excellent primer for much back-catalogue plundering and googling the longer words.