Review Summary: The second album without Gurewitz, and it tells. Lacks any kind of spark and sits as one of Bad Religion's worst releases.No Substance
Greg Graffin – Vocals
Greg Hetson - Guitar
Brian Baker – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jay Bentley – Bass, Backing Vocals
Bobby Schayer – Drums
Line-up changes are part and parcel of most bands’ careers. More often than not the band will manage to continue, albeit with a small change in sound, direction or style. But what if the departing member was both one of the bands founding elements and it’s joint songwriter" This was the problem faced by Bad Religion after guitarist/songwriter Brett Gurewitz left the band in 1994 before the release of 8th album Stranger Than Fiction
. Brian Baker joined the band as the second guitarist and Greg Graffin was left as the band’s lone songwriter. The introduction of Baker seemed to temporarily revitalise the band, who released The Grey Race
in 1996. Graffin managed to do an adequate job at filling the Gurewitz-shaped hole and their sound developed, most notably the addition of some great solos from Baker. Unfortunately this new lease of life didn’t last long; the two following releases (No Substance
& The New America
) are two of BR’s weakest.
First impressions of No Substance
are fairly poor. The horribly vulgar album art and somewhat apt/ironic title suggest that the band couldn’t really be bothered, and the music doesn’t do much in contradiction. The album gets off to something of a false start however with “Hear It”: it’s actually a very good song. Kicking the album off in a similar fashion to “Sinister Rouge” (without the Goth choir); it’s fast, aggressive and doesn’t pull any lyrical punches. But unfortunately “Hear It” is the exception not the rule; next track “Shades of Truth” is a much better analogy for the album as a whole. It lacks almost everything that made BR so brilliant on ‘the holy trinity’ of albums: energy in song writing and delivery, the speed and ferocity of the instrumentation and the full commitment of the band. The problem with the song and the album as a whole is not only are they too long and too slow, but just mediocre. Suffer
and No Control
both featured 15 tracks and clocked in at under half an hour, whereas No Substance
’s 16 tracks take over 40 minutes. This wouldn’t matter if the songs were good though, as BR have proved that they can manage slower, more rock-orientated songs (Infected, To Another Abyss). But what we end up with is the sound of an old band going through the motions, some (at the time) would even say on it’s death bed.
The departure of Gurewitz has clearly had an impact on the band, the main issue being Graffin’s quality control. Before he would have written seven songs and Gurewitz would have also contributed some, meaning both were under less pressure. This time around Graffin seems to have used all of his good songs up on the previous album, resulting in No Substance
’s total lack of quality. Some tracks show signs of life (the quite good “All Fantastic Images”) and others are decent in parts (the verses of “At the Mercy of Imbeciles” for instance), but most just lack that ‘special something’ to push them on.
Among BR fans there seems to be a common belief that any weak release would still be a decent release by anyone else’s standards. To some extent this is true, but if you have any knowledge of post Suffer
BR, or are a fan of anything good within the punk spectrum, this album’s weakness becomes immediately apparent. The ‘oozin aahs’, for which the band is famed, seem to lack passion and impact in comparison to other albums and the overall produced just seems lifeless. On any scale, be it BR, punk or rock in general, this is a poor LP.
is a lot of things: proof that Greg Graffin isn’t a one man song writing machine; proof of Brett Gurewitz’s influence and proof that the band needed a shot in the arm if it was to continue to keep up the high standards set previously. But ultimately it’s what the album isn’t that’s the problem: a good collection of songs