Brian Baker - I think there was an initial backlash, but what was really refreshing—and something I seem to understand intuitively, maybe because I play music—people began to understand that the label that gets it to the record store has absolutely nothing to do with what's on the record. I think there was a general understanding of that that fell over the punk community. So many punk rock bands actually wound up on some form of a major label...People began to realize that we weren't on Atlantic for them to mold us into N'Snyc. We were on Atlantic because Brett couldn't run Epitaph and run the band at the same time. (http://www.decapolis.com/musicreviews/interviews/badr.shtml)
Following the release of the sub par album No Substance in 1998, Bad Religion went into the studio with Todd Rundgren, a long time pop/rock producer. On this fact alone, many fans of their earlier work (Against the Grain, Suffer) might not take to this albums catchy hooks and melody's straight away. After No Substance, which was said by many to be just another regurgitation of the now a tired punk genre, its not surprising that Bad Religion decided to take a new direction, which Rundgren would obviously provide. There are raw moments on the album, in songs like 1000 memories, A streetkid named Desire, and The Hopeless Housewife, which serve to give the record a good balance of hard/soft and pop/punk dynamics. This is not to say that the album can be classified as pop by any sense of the word, its just more rooted in melody than something like Against the Grain, which has a few more 'disposable' tracks.
Its argued that Bad Religions songwriting worked best when Gregg Graffin and Gurewitz (who wrote most of the songs pre 1994) worked together, and that the level of songwriting is not quite the same in this album. While thats strikingly obvious at first, the production and overall structure of the record somewhat makes up for it (something which was not as prominent in past records perhaps) This also explains why the albums following this (The Process of Belief and Empire Strikes First) are examples of Bad Religions best work so far. They combine tight production with a harder approach than found in this album. Thats not to say that New America doesnt shine brightly, but its certainly a different taste. The record has a more upbeat sound, which will obviously put some people off.
Ultimately, fans and critics seem divided on this album. Some praise it as being 'some of Bad Religions best work in years' (allmusic.com), while others claim that it lacks the spark of Brett Gurewitz' guitar work and lyrics. (Gurewitz makes a make cameo on 'Believe it').
How should you look at this album then? Well, look at it as somewhere inbetween Stranger than Fiction and The Process of Belief. Its not quite as raw (or conventional) as Stranger than fiction, but its not quite as agressive as TPOB. Id say they reached a pretty happy medium (a happy sounding Bad Religion album, who would have thought) Without Rundgrens production though, this album would most likely have fallen into the same problems that No Substance did. Thankfully though, what the band has left us with is something that is neither as tired as No Substance, nor as inaudible as All Ages.
The album peaked at 88 on the billboard charts, which is probably one of the reasons Atlantic dropped them (no surprise there). After that the band went back to Epitaph, which has proven to be a very wise decision, especially with Gurewitz joining the band again full time.
1000 memories. The intro is great because it kicks off so fast, and blends into three different time tempos before heading into the chorus. Its a great lead into the chorus, which states "Cant somebody show a sign to you, for me to see". Its a powerful song because all the elements integrate well, and its more complex than the other songs on the album.
Whisper in time. The slowest song on the album, which turns out to be a great thing (slightly resembling 'Sorrow). Its got a slightly folky/nostalgic feel.
There will be a light is probably the only really weak song on the album. The others are all above average. The whole album runs at 42:19 minutes.
Brian Baker - When we came to the end of our contract with Atlantic, at that same time Brett was coming back to the band. We all aren't stupid men and thought, "Wouldn't it be good to be on the label that is owned by the guitar player in your band? That might be a good idea." It was really that simple. I mean, obviously there some history to it and all that, but it was just the right thing to do. (http://www.decapolis.com/musicreviews/interviews/badr.shtml)