Review Summary: A man once said "I don't believe in self-important folks who preach."
Bad Religion's 2018 standalone single, "The Kids Are Alt-Right", was an illuminating release for several reasons: one, it put the world on notice as to where the band stood on the political divide, probably a shock to no one; two, the song was heavily derided for being slow, boring, lyrically out-of-touch and full of logical stretches and clumsy stereotypes, and widely considered one of the worst songs they've ever done. In a hilarious twist, many actual alt-right kids on 4chan and the like unironically adopted the song as their anthem, probably the last thing the band was shooting for. Quickly redeeming themselves with the BR-approved rager "The Profane Rights Of Man" (a bonus track on here), "TKAAR" and Brett's Gurewitz's Twitter should've told us what was coming down the pike - BR were getting REALLY political on the new album, whether you like it or not.
The songs on Age Of Unreason
- Bad Religion's 17th LP - are perfectly serviceable and fun to listen to, most of the time. It's a Bad Religion record and you know what it's going to sound like before you've even heard of it, which is both a strength and a weakness. There's some great songs like "Chaos From Within", "Old Regime" and "My Sanity", "The Approach", and "What Tomorrow Brings" that are just as fiery and melodically brilliant as any of their finest work. But then there's those awkward, musically/lyrically cringeworthy tracks like "Big Black Dog", "Lose Your Head", and "Since Now" that show the band's age, and recycle their own riffs and songs to diminishing returns. The album ends up more or less in line with their other post-2000 output in quality, sitting right in the middle-low tier of their catalogue, with half the songs being solid-to-great and the other half fairly forgettable.
Jamie Miller and Mike Dimkich, the new drummer and rhythm guitarist, respectively, do a great if uneventful job in their first outing, with Greg's vocals on particular sounding incredible for his age and Jay's bass thumping dutifully throughout. Jamie certainly doesn't do flash or originality like Brooks Wackerman did, but he's hard-hitting and relentless in the style of Bobby Schayer, albeit a bit more slick as seen in the pummelling "Do The Paranoid Style". Aside from a couple of great solos from Brian Baker and Brett on some songs, musically the band is a bit more reserved than their post-Atlantic work with Brooks and mainly playing it safe in a move that doesn't always work out in keeping the listener’s interest - it feels like a step backwards. The songs just don't go anywhere interesting, and the shorter track lengths that were a strength in True North
work against it here. The poppier tracks like "Lose Your Head" and "Big Black Dog" come off forced or painfully awkward in that lovable "Dad" Religion kind of way, and again show that BR really have no idea how to self-edit with quality control.
The real issue here is the lyrics, which will be sure to get a variety of wildly-different opinions. If you're hard left-wing / liberal, here's your new favorite Orange Man Bad record; on AOU
, BR sound the alarm once again, this time on everyone's favorite target, Donald Trump. The result ends up sounding like pretty much every other vaguely-liberal band that has something to say about Donald Trump - mainly, he's a racist, sexist, Nazi, puppy kicker, racist, got two scoops, literally _______, did I mention RACIST?, Mueller stuff, cages kids, and says mean words, just like Hitler did!
And if you at all agree with him, or voted for him for any reason at all, by extension YOU are also those same things. Yawn. Bad Religion have never been so bluntly political, and it's kinda gross. If you happen to be a more moderate, centrist, or right-leaning, you'd probably think that BR are diving face-first into full Trump Derangement Syndrome, and resorting to tired stereotypes and sloganeering instead of truly insightful criticism - and you'd be right. In the past, the band was always choosing The Big Picture view over that of political sniping and internecine conflicts and staying above the petty partisanship and ***-flinging. But that's not the case anymore, as the lyrics of "Chaos From Within" are a primo setup for the proceedings: start to finish, prepare to be bludgeoned with Blue Checkmark-approved liberal Boomerisms and strawmen, with a partisan vitriol that BR really never stooped to before even in The Empire Strikes First
, and it never lets up. At least they had SOME subtlety and nuance on TESF
- this is just beneath them, really, punching down for the sake of it and dating the record to a specific time, doubtless to age much worse than their older work.
It's the law of diminishing returns - if everyone is doing the same thing, that thing is no longer special or original, and you have to put a fresh take on said topic or it just becomes rote preaching to the converted. In terms of criticizing Trump, BR aren't saying anything insightful, original or different that you haven't heard from any op-ed pundit on say, CNN, MSNBC or Huffington Post - they're just using bigger words to slam anyone not in their ideological bubble, which is truly hilarious in hindsight for a band who wrote “Them And Us”, "The Answer" and "No Direction". "Do The Paranoid Style" is a study in dark irony if you contrast the lyrics to Brett's own Twitter Russiagate meltdowns. For a band that's usually much more cerebral in their approach, this comes off like fear-mongering and reductive. And when the whole album plays out like this, which limits the appeal of the record as strictly one for those receptive to their specific political message, weakening the enjoyment for anyone not lockstep with their extreme-left viewpoints - which wouldn't be as big as issue, if the music wasn't so by-the-numbers.
I want to like Age Of Unreason
more, I really do. But aside from the frequently-cringeworthy politics and partisan attacks, the music itself simply doesn't interest as much as BR has on their most recent albums. It lacks the intensity of True North
, the effective musical detours and experimental touches of Dissent
and New Maps
, and the general songwriting quality of Empire
and The Process Of Belief
, but has its moments. It's still better than the latter Atlantic years, but not by much, and doesn't even approach the level of quality of their ‘87-’94 Golden Age, but it's still a passable BR album that has more good than bad and is a testament to the generally-likable sound they've cultivated. The biggest issue is the fact that, well, they're beating a lyrical dead horse for punk scene / PC points and becoming more divisive in their approach, leaving any and all subtlety and nuance in a ditch, and it's a crappy look for them. Hopefully they come back stronger next time and don't end their career on such a divisive note.