Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bad Religion

  • How Could Hell Be Any Worse? [Epitaph, 1982] B
  • Into the Unknown [Epitaph, 1983] A-
  • Suffer [Epitaph, 1988] B
  • No Control [Epitaph, 1989] B+
  • Against the Grain [Epitaph, 1990] *
  • 80-85 [Epitaph, 1991] Neither
  • Generator [Epitaph, 1992] *
  • Recipe for Hate [Epitaph, 1993] Neither
  • Stranger Than Fiction [Atlantic, 1994] *
  • All Ages [Epitaph, 1995] A-
  • The Gray Race [Atlantic, 1996] *
  • No Substance [Atlantic, 1998] Dud
  • The New America [Atlantic, 2000] Dud
  • The Empire Strikes First [Epitaph, 2004] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

How Could Hell Be Any Worse? [Epitaph, 1982]
Greg Graffin's vocals fall into a naturally musical off-key drone that make him sound at times like a mullah in mourning, which is appropriate--he's not as arrogant about his nihilism as most hardcore kids. On the other hand, he's not as funny about it as the best ones, either. B

Into the Unknown [Epitaph, 1983]
Like a less musicianly version of the departed TSOL, this promising L.A. hardcore outfit has moved on to slower-tempo, organ-drenched hard rock that resembles nothing so much as late Hawkwind. Some may call it caterwaul, but I find myself moved by its anthemic ambition--and achievement. Conceptual clincher: the way they surround the dystopian-gothic tales and images--the kind of stuff that comes naturally to committed teenagers who know they're growing up but don't know they like it--with "It's Only Over . . ." and ". . . When You Give Up." A-

Suffer [Epitaph, 1988]
This comeback is hailed as a hardcore milestone, probably because it's coherent. Relatively sane as their bitter analysis is--and I mean relative to both hardcore despair and mainstream complacency--it sounds a little pat. As if they're already a little slow for speedrock and don't want to upset the apple cart. B

No Control [Epitaph, 1989]
Like a good rapper, Greg Graffin is once again singing his own tune--no matter how the three chords play themselves out on the (probably nonexistent, but never mind) lead sheet, the natural drone of his voice adds a music of its own. And he's still finding naive new truths in disillusioned hardcore truisms. "Culture was the seed of proliferation but it has gotten melded into an inharmonic whole" is bad writing; so's "Prescience was not lacking and the present was not all." Yet propelled by the drone and the three chords, they clobber you with the life-probe that's always been rock and roll's secret, excuse, or reason for being. B+

Against the Grain [Epitaph, 1990]
life still sucks ("21st Century (Digital Boy)") *

80-85 [Epitaph, 1991] Neither

Generator [Epitaph, 1992]
in lieu of the future, they'll accept nice neighbors and the occasional stroll ("Too Much To Ask," "Generator") *

Recipe for Hate [Epitaph, 1993] Neither

Stranger Than Fiction [Atlantic, 1994]
keeping the bad faith ("Incomplete," "Hooray for Me") *

All Ages [Epitaph, 1995]
Maintaining a sonic constancy that makes the retirees in the Ramones seem chameleonic by comparison, these Valley boys are monotonous enough to benefit from a best-of, but don't think they've ever settled for a duff album--they're too focused, and too brainy. No doubt a better writer would find a simpler, more eloquent way to say, for instance, "Culture was the seed of proliferation/but it has gotten melded/into an inharmonic whole." But a) the song bashes like a motherfucker anyway. And b) the big words are a hook. If their antipolitical ecopessimism isn't spreading like wildfire, which is just as well anyway, give them credit for aiming to challenge, not convince. And believe that where most bands with a message for the masses wind up looking like bigger fools than they already are, Ph.D candidate Greg Graffin and departed homeboy Brett Gurewitz aren't just better informed than their fans--they're probably better informed than you. A-

The Gray Race [Atlantic, 1996]
now actually the Greg Graffin Group, as you can tell with a scorecard ("Punk Rock Song," "One in Twenty Ten") *

No Substance [Atlantic, 1998] Dud

The New America [Atlantic, 2000] Dud

The Empire Strikes First [Epitaph, 2004]
"Los Angeles Is Burning," "Let Them Eat War" Choice Cuts

See Also