Album review: Bad Religion, The Gray Race (1996)



By Steve Newton

I don’t normally spend money on punk music from the ’70s, but when I came across a used cassette of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols recently, I couldn’t help myself. The notion of motoring around town to the raucous blast of “Holidays in the Sun” and the snarly strains of “No Feelings” was just too inviting. In the face of today’s flavour-of-the-month punk revival, the nihilistic whine of Johnny Rotten and the flailing, buzzsaw guitar of Steve Jones still captivate me more than the latest chart-topper by contemporary acts such as Green Day, Rancid, or Offspring.

Bad Religion is another story, though. These So-Cal underground veterans are the genuine article, and the caustic lyrics of vocalist Greg Graffin and the double-barrelled guitar onslaught of Greg Hetson and new member Brian Baker (formerly of Minor Threat and Dag Nasty) take full precedence over mohawk hairdos and flashy, MTV-approved videos.

On its Ric Ocasek–produced ninth release, the band churns out angry diatribes on the sorry state of the human race, and its concise comments on greed, alienation, and indignity are driven along by some of the catchiest riffs around. By the 14th rampaging track you’re quite sure the band must have exhausted its quota of exhilarating chord progressions, but then it roars back with yet another thrilling barrage.

Like the Sex Pistols, who mocked punk wanna-bes in the late ’70s, Bad Religion gets its licks in on today’s bandwagon-jumpers in “Punk Rock Song”, a blunt representation of the genre’s ideal: “This is just a punk rock song/Written for the people who can see something’s wrong/Like ants in a colony we do our share/But there’s so many other fuckin’ insects out there/And this is just a punk rock song.”

Sure, it’s just a punk-rock song, but in the skillful and devoted hands of Bad Religion, it’s the type that’ll last long after Billie Joe’s dyed hair has faded to gray.

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