BAD RELIGION: STRANGER THAN FICTION (1994)
1) Incomplete; 2) Leave Mine To Me; 3) Stranger Than Fiction; 4) Tiny Voices; 5) The Handshake; 6) Better Off Dead; 7) Infected; 8) Television; 9) Individual; 10) Hooray For Me...; 11) Slumber; 12) Marked; 13) Inner Logic; 14) What It Is; 15) 21st Century (Digital Boy); 16*) News From The Front; 17*) Markovian Process.
Another year... The only generalization that can be generalized about this record has already been made in the All-Music Guide review: Bad Religion sign up with a major record label and, in order to convince the fanbase that this is not a sellout, try their best to come up with an «authentic» BR record, dumping all the variety of the previous two albums. That is as correct as they come: Stranger Than Fiction is all tense, all fast, almost all a stylistic clone of Suffer. Whether this is good, bad, or who-the-heck-cares is a different thing. In a way, Bad Religion might be like AC/DC — it's very easy to get sick of the formula, but nothing else seems to work as efficiently. Change and perish, always stay the same and prosper.
For tactical reasons, the band re-recorded ʽ21st Century Digital Boyʼ for this album — now that they had a larger distribution base, re-releasing their most famous song seemed like the right thing to do. According to one of the versions, they were forced to do this by the people at Atlantic who wanted a hit single and saw no potential in the rest of the songs. Were they right or were they wrong? Well, let's just take a look at these other singles.
ʽInfectedʼ, the album's slowest and «grandest» number, starts off with a few blasts of feedback that almost sound like a pompous brass introduction — then chuggishly builds up towards a look-at-me-suffer chorus. It is the only song here that would not seem fit for their late 1980s albums, and for a good reason: it sounds like a boring post-grunge teen-angst anthem — not even graced with another set of Graffin's intellectualized lyrics: "You affect me / You infect me / I'm afflicted / I'm addicted / You and me" is not exactly the most inspiring chorus in BR history.
Third single was the title track: London Calling-style punk-power-pop here, upbeat, martial, lyrically rich — and not catchy in the least. You know something's not right when the song's idea of «catchiness» is to insert the word "obituary" in the empty musical space between the chorus and the next verse. It's not even shocking. And the fact that "Life is the crummiest book I ever read / There isn't a hook, just a lot of cheap shots" is not something I'd be willing to take for an excuse. Even if that is true, it does not mean that art has to follow life in everything. I, for one, did not start listening to Bad Religion for any «cheap shots».
That leaves us with the fourth single, and it is the only one worthy of close attention: ʽIncompleteʼ is probably the best song on the album, just because the tough, passionate start — "Mother! father! look at your little monster, I'm a hero, I'm a zero, I'm the butt of the worst joke in history" — is overwhelming, the best shot of inspiration on the album. This is classic Bad Religion stuff: anti-social ranting, well constructed lyrics, speed, fury, hatred, madness, and wisdom.
There are quite a few other songs like that on Stranger Than Fiction, scattered here and there — ʽTiny Voicesʼ, ʽThe Handshakeʼ, ʽIndividualʼ, etc. — but there is also quite a bit of stuff that goes easy on the hatred, or the lyrics, or the speed, or the fury, and that's bad, because it does not add much to the album's general feel of diversity, yet makes it less intense and cutting-edge than the Suffer-era trilogy. And the very fact that they had to re-record a much earlier song to stimulate interest in the album is quite telling.
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