BAD RELIGION: INTO THE UNKNOWN (1983)
1) It's Only Over When...; 2) Chasing The Wild Goose; 3) Billy Gnosis; 4) Time And Disregard; 5) The Dichotomy; 6) Million Days; 7) Losing Generation; 8) ...You Give Up.
Apart from being one of the most bizarre releases in the history of hardcore, Into The Unknown is not particularly enlightening, interesting, or exciting. It is usually quoted as «that unfortunate prog experiment by Bad Religion», which is not very accurate, I think; the word «progressive» only appears in conjunction with the main band members (Graffin and Gurewitz) having once proclaimed to have had a crush on progressive rock acts. There is, at most, one track here that bears a direct influence of classic 1970s prog — the seven-minute, multi-part epic ʽTime And Disregardʼ — but everything else is more like «anthemic power-pop with a heavy keyboard fetish». And totally godawful production values.
Bad Religion's entire rhythm section quit in protest over this unexpected change of direction, and they can be understood: just as the band was starting to make headlines with their brand of «intelligent hardcore», lo and behold, Greg Graffin drags a keyboard out of the bushes and learns to sing instead of... well, you know. The new look band's live shows were reported to be abandoned by fans in droves at the first sight of the synthesizer. In the end, they just had to acknowledge that the whole thing was a silly mistake. As far as I know, the entire album has never even been released on CD so far (although, curiously enough, it has been re-released on vinyl for the 30 Year Anniversary Box Set — go figure!).
The album does suck, for sure, but not because of the «switch» — I'm always happy to witness a switch when it works. The biggest problem is that the songs are just no good. It is quickly evident what has been lost — the speed, the energy, the sneering, the standard punk riffage variations that become appreciable once you get to know them — but it is not immediately clear what it is they have gained. As a «pop» or «prog» singer, Graffin has no distinct personality; as a guitar player in either one of these genres, Gurewitz has little credibility; and the keyboards really, really suck, as if they only had saved up for the cheapest available model — oh, these tones, not even worthy of a late-period Genesis. Even those few songs that preserve a bit of rock'n'roll crunch are seriously cheesified by them (ʽLosing Generationʼ).
And, since we are no longer hardcore, what we need here is outstanding melodies. Instead, we get flat, faceless «martial» rhythms or boogie lines, where the role of rhythm guitar is limited to putting down a bedrock of power chords (some of the solos are sufficiently melodic, to be fair, but are we really supposed to simply wait for the solo each time? Gurewitz ain't no Clapton anyway). ʽChasing The Wild Gooseʼ alone tries to open with something that resembles a catchy riff, then realizes it sounds a bit too close to ʽZiggy Stardustʼ (thanks to Mark Prindle for pointing that out) and quickly shifts to a one-chord mid-tempo melody with rotten vocals.
Lyrically, the album moves away from hardcore bluntness and into the realm of obscure metaphors and ellipses that still seem to be dealing with the same major topic («society rot»). Seeing the lines to ʽTime And Disregardʼ on paper, I could perfectly well picture them sung by the likes of Peter Hammill — someone whose average care for melodic memorability was more or less on the same level as Graffin's, but whose ability to credibly «get into character» was quite unsurpassed, whereas Graffin here does not even begin to try.
Overall, it just looks they did not pack enough supplies and undergo the proper physical training to justify a serious cosmic journey Into The Unknown. The braveness — nay, the craziness — of the gesture may be appreciated, of course (much like the «braveness» of jumping off the 20th floor to see what happens), but the results are, at worst, disastrous (each time the keyboards start staging a particularly ferocious assault on the senses) and, at best, just boring. Even if ʽLosing Generationʼ chugs along at a fine speed, I'd rather re-enjoy the same chug on something like, say, The Amboy Dukes' ʽJourney To The Center Of The Mindʼ. Thumbs down.