BAD RELIGION: TESTED (1997)
1) Operation Rescue; 2) Punk Rock Song; 3) Tomorrow; 4) A Walk; 5) God Song; 6) Pity The Dead; 7) One Thousand More Fools; 8) Drunk Sincerity; 9) Generator; 10) Change Of Ideas; 11) Portrait Of Authority; 12) What It Is; 13) Dream Of Unity; 14) Sanity; 15) American Jesus; 16) Do What You Want; 17) Part III; 18) 10 In 2010; 19) No Direction; 20) Along The Way; 21) Recipe For Hate; 22) Fuck Armageddon; 23) It's Reciprocal; 24) Struck A Nerve; 25) Leave Mine To Me; 26) Tested; 27) No Control.
Get out the calculators. 3 completely new, previously unissued songs; 5 songs from The Gray Race (1996); 2 songs from Stranger Than Fiction (1994); 4 songs from Recipe For Hate (1993); 3 songs from Generator (1992); 2 songs from Against The Grain (1990); 3 songs from No Control (1989); 2 songs from Suffer (1988); 1 song from Back To The Known (1984); 2 songs from How Could Hell Be Any Worse (1982). Boy, do these guys have a large discography — and boy, do they love to love it. All except Into The Unknown, that is, which is important, because it is the only clue we have here that Greg Graffin can actually accept a few mistakes (or at least one mistake) in his life.
If there could ever be a point in a Bad Religion live album, then Graffin and Co. make everything in their power to avoid it. First, a real good live punk rock show should last about the same as a real good punk rock album — no more than half an hour at best; Tested spills over an hour-long vessel, and listening to Bad Religion for more than sixty minutes is only recommendable for real strong guys with lots of frustration to vent, more than I could ever imagine (and I'm feeling pretty pissed off right now myself). Second, even in punk rock, it does help if you try and make your material a little bit different from the studio originals — even if you just speed it up a bit, like the Ramones — and this might be the main reason why punk bands do not frequently bother with live recordings, since most of them already have a live-in-the-studio sound.
Third and most important, Graffin chose a very strange approach here: instead of doing like everybody else and «miking the stage», he simply directed all the instruments straight into the recording console. This allowed the sound to be captured as faithfully and cleanly as possible, and the reasonable point to be lost completely. The new, crazy point is to answer the question: «How fuckin' good — technically — are Bad Religion when they go onstage and play their material?» The normal answer to that question, in a logical world, would be: «Who fuckin' cares?» Only a band with a very puffed up sense of self-importance would demand a different one.
In addition, the actual recordings were all taken from different shows and selected with great care out of a pile of look-alikes — you'd think it was Glenn Gould here sorting through the tapes, not the leader of a generic hardcore outfit regularly operating at a three-chord level. With no continuity whatsoever to the proceedings, they don't even formally qualify as a «live punk rock show». What's the actual sense, then? Just try to assert your intellectual superiority over all competition by «doing something different»? How about some humility here? Would be nice for a band whose workbag of musical ideas is kinda skinny, to put it mildly.
Not that the whole thing is utterly bland, uninspired, disgusting, or anything. The song selection is all right — at this point, it is fairly difficult even to remember what were the «highlights» and the «lowlights» on the band's original albums anyway — and of the new songs, only the super-slow, ultra-pathetic ʽDream Of Unityʼ goes over the top in an adequacy-defying manner. As a general retrospective, it isn't too bad (although one wonders why they didn't arrange the songs in chronological order, if they are fading out after each track anyway). But high up above the simple «like it or hate it» level, most live albums set out to prove a purpose — and Tested seems to prove all the wrong ones. Thumbs down, simply because I doubt I'll ever listen to it again. In fact, I have similar doubts about plenty of other BR albums, but if there is anything in particular that the title of Tested refers to — it's patience, yours and mine. In any case, buying the album won't solve the world's problems, as Graffin would have you do. You might just as well donate your money to a financial pyramid.