Bad Religion brought their crisp, concise, relentlessly melodic punk sound into the studio for the 16th and possibly final time on True North
, and it's no major knock on the veteran band that the album doesn’t sound drastically different from their first album. After all, it wouldn't be a Bad Religion record if the band's catastrophically catchy maelstrom of guitars and impassioned vocals weren't intact. No matter how many adjectives one lobs at the album, "original" won't be along them, but sometimes that’s not so bad. When the title track charges out of the gate, familiarity immediately ensues, and with it a sort of comfort. Bad Religion still have the ability to make the listener drive far too fast while pondering the injustices of our existence.
The music and subject matter on True North
hold less surprises than, well, a Bad Religion album. Sure, they've changed band members and affected slight shifts in style over the years, but anyone expecting more than the typical socially conscious churn will be sorely disappointed. There are lots of pick slides – and I mean lots - and impassioned harmonies, per usual. With that in mind, this is a fine record on its own merit. As caffeinated and verbose as ever, the songs on True North - much like the rest of the band's best work - warrant careful analysis as well as plenty of exaggerated air guitar approvals.
“True North” is incredibly impactful in less than two minutes, as is “Land of Endless Greed”, a frenetic tune that contains winning vocal harmonies and a refreshingly simplistic (but still meaningful) lyrical approach. “Vanity” takes this formula to the extreme, lashing out at the world in an almost indecipherable minute of gliding harmonies and spitfire lyrics. “Hello Cruel World” taps into a bit of the aching, slightly-slowed-down sound that the band has toyed with in the past, with enjoyable results. Mostly, though, it’s one political pop punk burner after another – the warp-speed tempos and shout-along choruses of “Crisis Time”, “Dept. of False Hope”, “Popular Consensus”, “Nothing to Dismay”, and “Changing Tide” will leave you gasping for air.
Musically and lyrically, the album is almost unsettlingly intense. 16 songs glide by in a barely perceptible 40 minutes. Unfortunately, listeners will have to claw a bit to decipher the vocals. Greg Graffin is the most professorial punk on the planet, and his word-mongering sometimes gets in the way of an admittedly impassioned sentiment, especially when obscured by walls of guitar and backing vocals. The verses in “Past is Dead” and “In Their Hearts Is Right” are representative of this malady, too verbose for their own good. Sometimes, his tendency to cram words works, as in “Robin Hood in Reverse”: “Let’s say we try to get this right/Said the plutocrat to Jesus Christ”. “F**k You” and the tuneful “Dharma and The Bomb” are almost self-consciously simple by comparison.
Bad Religion is Bad Religion, and it’s unlikely you’ll see this record nestled next to indie darlings or arty hip-hop on 2013’s “albums of the year” lists. But As Graffin sings here, “the popular consensus doesn’t mean much to me”, and it won’t matter at all to those who hear this fireball of an album.