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Practically Perfect 

Punk equations

Wednesday, Feb 27 2002
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Bad Religion
The Process of Belief (Epitaph)

Not to sound too prog about it, but, within the tiny confines of the melodic punk genre they chiefly created, Bad Religion’s new CD finds the band, yes, subtly stretching musical borders and further expanding on the style’s required constituent parts. It’s real professional stuff, you knew it would be, and it delivers just about 100 percent immediate gratification. Which is to say, no band on Earth has a sharper gift for giving the kids what they want while prodding them to open their ears a bit.

A classic B.R. set (uh, classic in the true-to-form sense) of mostly way-hyper trouncings through 14 righteous little rants, The Process of Belief benefits from our crusty veterans’ wealth of hard-earned wisdom ’n’ experience; these are almost too-perfect punk equations. That’s “almost” because, while opener “Supersonic” sets the tone with a lotta standard-issue amphetamine bounce and sweaty forward propulsion, etc., with Greg Graffin punching out “I want life — it’s exciting!” and the band really making you feel that, if you’re listening (entirely possible with these songs) you’re gonna pick up on a few new items tossed into the pot. The supersocko drumming — that locomotive pogo/slam speed-bump realized and refined right here in sunny Southern California — hashed over throughout by Brooks Wackerman is totally, totally, totally excellent, so wicked that B.R. indeed decided to go with identical beats for about 80 percent of the rekkid. But this is hardcore, so that’s not a knock, just to mention that the form has become something a tad holy — you can’t deviate so much that you’re gonna come off too arty or technical; why, the kids’d think you were pretentious, a wanker!

So what B.R. brings are ways to magnify the hardcore form’s musical content while displaying some truly supreme economy (ain’t one wasted note on the entire damn album). Especially on the electric “ballad” (faster, though) “Broken,” the initially reggaefied “Sorrow” and the Tull-ish (no kiddin’) “Epiphany” you get tasty doses of what this band is never credited with, which is smart vocal harmonies and shrewd and surprising and mood-enhancing chord shifts; credit Brett Gurewitz and Graffin for actually knowing how to construct musically logical bridges and choruses. And Graffin, not often cited for it, has real vocal skills, with a pleasing register/grain and seemingly uninfected by overt Valley duderino. If you’re not farsighted yet, check out Graffin’s lyrics in the confusingly elaborate CD booklet. You will maybe discover that he’s got a fine way of preachifying without coming off too stridently correct about things, even putting out a rather avuncular vibe in his diatribes.

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Bad Religion is about feeling helpless (“Destined for Nothing”: “No destiny for you and me” — no few-chaah) or cheated and boiling, but picking yourself up and doing something, anything, about it. Whether or not the band is, y’know, too old to be carrying on like this is moot when evidently zillions of kids don’t have a problem with that. More interesting is how many of these extremely well-crafted new tunes would hold up well in different musical settings. For Gurewitz and Graffin, there’ll be plenty of life after hardcore.

 

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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