Released Jan. 22nd on Epitaph Records
There’s a retrospective mood running through True North, Bad Religion’s 16th studio album in 34 years. It’s apparent both in the lyrics, which reference some of the bygone days, and in the music, which sounds like a return to their hardcore roots without losing the melodic moments that are the band’s hallmark. The choice to look backward in order to move forward was party influenced by last year’s Pennywise album, All or Nothing, which found that band rejuvenated by a change of lead singer. Brett Gurewitz—who is both one of Bad Religion’s 3 guitarists and half of its legendary songwriting trust, as well as the head of Epitaph Records, home to both BR and Pennywise—found in that record the inspiration to write a fast Bad Religion album in the vein of 1989’s No Control. With only one song exceeding the 3-minute mark, True North certainly feels more like that album than it does 2010’s The Dissent of Man, which played more to the band’s arena rock side.
The album’s nostalgic leanings are most apparent in the lyrical and musical references it drops: The opening notes of “Past Is Dead” lift from 1981’s “Wrecking Crew” by Fullerton hardcore act the Adolescents, a group claimed as an early favorite by singer Greg Graffin (the other half of BR’s songwriting team). Standout track “Robin Hood in Reverse” drops a nod to British oi! band Sham 69: “Citizens united / I was excited / If the kids are united they can never be divided / But that was yesterday / There’s a brand new sham today”. Sung by Gurewitz, “Dharma and the Bomb” is built on a surf-punk rhythm that’s a dead ringer for Agent Orange, another Orange County act from the early hardcore days. “Hello Cruel World” is somewhat self-referential, sounding like a slightly subdued rewrite of BR’s 1994 breakthrough hit “Infected”.
Not that the whole thing’s a nostalgia trip. In fact, this album contains some of the band’s most forceful, tuneful, and fresh-sounding songs of their last decade. Blistering-yet-melodic standouts include the title track, “Land of Endless Greed”, “Vanity”, “In Their Hearts Is Right”, and the fist-pumping chorus of “Nothing to Dismay”. First single “Fuck You” is classic Bad Religion, with those perfect “oozin’ ahhs” vocal harmonies and Graffin’s wry, introspective examination of the title phrase: “Sometimes it takes no thought at all / The easiest thing to do / Is say ‘fuck you’ / Pavlovian rude / A menace too / Pay homage to / Your bad attitude”. I admit I wasn’t sold on the song at first, since the lyrics are delivered so fast I had trouble deciphering them, but like most BR songs once the lyric sheet is in hand a whole new level of appreciation for the tune opens up.
If the album has a flaw, it’s that at 16 tracks some songs can unintentionally feel like filler, and that feeling starts to bubble up during the album’s latter half. “Crisis Time”, “Popular Consensus”, and “The Island” are all good songs on their own, but being as they are on the back half of what feels like a long album (though the whole affair only clocks in at 36 minutes), they feel lost among the highly-populated tracklist. Still, that’s no slight against the songs themselves nor any reason not to recommend True North as a whole. It’s an energized release and probably Bad Religion’s most consistently great album front-to-back since their new-millennium “renaissance”.