LA punk rock veterans return with an overpowering 16th studio album.
Ian Winwood 2013
True North features a song titled Robin Hood in Reverse, a frenetically paced number packed with chorus-sized verses that will be familiar to anyone who, over the years, has found pleasure in the music made by Bad Religion.
The track takes as its subject matter the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling that multi-national corporations can, in the eyes of the law, be counted as people, as individuals. On a rolling-boil of contempt, the composition finds the time for a quick nod to punk oiks of yore, in this case a refrain from Sham 69’s If The Kids Are United, as well as the space for a possible couplet of the year: “‘Let’s say we try to get this right,’ / Said the plutocrat to Jesus Christ.”
And so it is that, in fewer than three minutes, this Californian sextet manages to showcase a number of qualities on various levels. There’s high-class songwriting, blistering pace, superior musicality, highbrow lyrical concerns and a lovingly throwaway reference to a group the naivety of which Bad Religion are capable of making a mockery.
Despite being too cerebral and too damn fast to ever be truly a mainstream concern, over a 30-something year career Bad Religion have amassed a body of work of sufficient quality to secure its authors a seat at the high table in the American punk rock hall of fame. The truly impressive thing about this most intellectually probing of groups, however, is their refusal to sunbathe on past glories, and the effort and care they bring to taking forward steps.
Chances are that middle-aged fans of this middle-aged group might nominate albums such as 1988’s pivotal Suffer and 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction – fine sets, both – as being Bad Religion’s musical high-water marks. But for listeners still paying close attention the sextet’s movements, their output in the 21st century is of an even higher order.
With its high-minded lyrical concerns, its family-sized choruses and its authors’ buoyant pursuit of what, in lesser hands, could be a restrictive musical form, True North is a superior addition to Bad Religion’s already towering body of work.