Tidal Catalog #22: Bad Religion

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also though that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Flash forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I have ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for great formatting, you know?

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
  • Compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before)

Entrance Point: I knew a lot of material from the band and Stranger Than Fiction got me through years of college but I had stopped listening after The Gray Race.

All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:

  • Suffer (10)

I surprised myself with this one. I fully expected Stranger Than Fiction to be in my top slot as I’ve probably listened to that 200 times over the years but alas, Suffer is ever so slightly better. And before this, I had only listened to it once. It was released in 1988, before I had really discovered hardcore punk, so at the time, Suffer was not on my radar at all but that’s why I did these catalogs – to find gems like this. And this gem could very well be one of, if not the most influential hardcore punk / melodic hardcore records of all time. It’s got everything the best Bad Religion albums have and more. Biting political lyrics, hardcore punk riffs that go a bit beyond three chords and melody for days. “Do What You Want” is probably a top-5 Bad Religion track and lead track “You Are (the Government)” is a great example of a sound that really only belongs to this band. And Suffer of course came after their second album, Into the Unknown, which was a fucking progressive rock record. The world is surely better thanks to Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz, realizing their mistake before they took it any further. And I think due to that, they just came out swinging and have made one of the fiercest punk records of all time.

“Do What You Want”
  • Stranger Than Fiction (10)

And now, Stranger Than Fiction, the album I listened to at least 3-4 times a week, every week of my freshman year of college. This is one of the weirdest cases of selling out that I’m aware of. Here’s this influential punk band, coming off one of their weakest records and having been on Epitaph, known for it’s punk and hardcore and run by their guitarist Brett Gurewitz, moving to major label Atlantic, of which after the recording, Gurewitz parts ways with the band. I remember it being pretty controversial at the time but what came from it was one of the best albums ever made. Sure, the album is more polished than the earlier records but it’s still as fast & furious as anything they’ve ever done and for me, it sounds like Atlantic allowed them to record what they wanted to – and they got airplay from the record with both “Infected” and a re-recording of “21st Century (Digital Boy).” The hooks on Stranger Than Fiction are unmatched by any punk band that I know and they managed to get amazing melody into their songs without any compromise. At this point, I can sing this album front-to-back so I love every track but I always focus on non-singles like “The Handshake,” “Better Off Dead” and “Individual.” Pair this sucker up with Offspring’s “Smash” and kick the shit out of things. And don’t dare say Bad Religion sold out. They just brought their music to a wider audience.

“The Handshake”
  • The Empire Strikes First (9.5)
  • No Control (9)
  • Age of Unreason (9)

It took six years between albums for Bad Religion to get this bad boy out in March of 2019, which the band described as an album of “Fuck Trump songs,” and isn’t hard to figure out based on lyrics like “Believers, dupes and clowns I want you all to gather ’round / To glorify ignorance and fear / I dispense misinformation to a post-truth generation / my darlings don’t shed a tear (“Candidate”) or “Just to think that not so long ago was a man who received the seal / He peddled blatant lies and brought back tyranny to divide his people with zeal. (“Age of Unreason”). I guess Bad Religion isn’t on any government official’s radar to bring up to the Don as I don’t remembering him tweeting something about how Greg Graffin was an old fart that never knew what punk rock was anyway, followed by how much he loves punk (aka Green Day). But this album came at the right time as it skewered the President while still very much being a Bad Religion record, even if musically, there are more tracks that lead towards rock than on most of their recent releases. Based on how much vitriol the band is spewing here, it’s surprising they haven’t released another album or two of material. I can’t picture this is all they have to say.

“Big Black Dog”
  • Against the Grain (9)
  • True North (8.5)
  • The New America (8.5)
  • No Substance (8)
  • How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (8)
  • 30 Years Live (8)
  • Generator (8)
  • The Dissent of Man (7.5)
  • The Process of Belief (7.5)
  • The Gray Race (7)

The Gray Race was the follow up to Stranger Than Fiction, which was so good that I doubt anything could have lived up to it. However, it’s not as bad as the critics said back in 1996. The biggest change here is that Gurewitz was no longer with the band and he wrote half the songs on Bad Religion records. So that left Greg Graffin to now write all the tunes and while make no mistake, he’s a great songwriter, BR records thrived because the two of them played well off each other. So if this album sounds a little “same-y,” that’s the reason. It doesn’t pack the punch of their classic albums but still contains some great punk tunes and more melodic commercial tunes like “A Walk.” Aside from some of the tunes just sounding uninspired, there’s also the poor choice of Ric Ocasek as the producer. His production took a lot of the edge off the album and that edge is what made Bad Religion great. He produced it like it was a Weezer record, which is not what the band needed. That said, it’s still a very listenable record but one that in a catalog of so many great records, can pretty much be ignored and you’d be no worse for it.

“Parallel”
  • Tested (7)
  • New Maps of Hell (6)
  • Into the Unknown (6)
  • Recipe for Hate (6)

Released in 1993, during the heart of grunge, I find this to be the weakest album in their great catalog. The biggest thing missing were the melodies that defined the band’s sound – most songs lacked the catchiness needed to keep me listening (“Portrait of Authority” is a great example of a song that just never reaches its potential) and some songs like “Kerosene” were just way busier than normal BR tunes and thus didn’t work very well. The production, done by the band, was also shitty, pretty much muting all the power in the guitars. While this album has been re-released in the past, it wasn’t remastered and it might be interesting to hear the album if it was done correctly. It’s also not lost on me that Eddie Vedder sings on two of the tracks as the band clearly tried to capture that grunge audience, without playing that style of music. Again, like any of the BR records near the end of my list, they aren’t terrible and you may like some of them but for me, I’m focusing on the first dozen in my list instead.

“Portrait of Authority”

Summary: 19 albums, average 8.0

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