BAD RELIGION: THE EMPIRE STRIKES FIRST (2004)
1) Overture; 2) Sinister Rouge; 3) Social Suicide; 4) Atheist Peace; 5) All There Is; 6) Los Angeles Is Burning; 7) Let Them Eat War; 8) God's Love; 9) To Another Abyss; 10) The Quickening; 11) The Empire Strikes First; 12) Beyond Electric Dreams; 13) Boot Stamping On A Human Face Forever; 14) Live Again (The Fall Of Man).
Perhaps, after the initial period of happiness at Gurewitz's return had ended, Bad Religion would have withered and died down again — but, as fate would have it, soon after The Process Of Belief came the Iraq war, and along with it, the Bush doctrine of preventive strikes; and there is nothing more effective than a little imperialist warfare to get the old flames reignited up to high heavens when it comes to Bad Religion. Of course, when you are as radically left as these guys, you will always have enough reasons to fuel your fire (at least, until communism comes and your music gets officially banned by the local Party secretary), but still, radical protest under Clinton is one thing, and under George W. is quite another. Suddenly, for a while, everything starts making better sense than it used to, and you might even find grounds for true inspiration.
There are actually a couple of genuine popcore classics here, both contributed by Gurewitz. ʽThe Quickeningʼ ranks with the best they ever did — the speed, the infectious chorus of "to come alive, to come alive", the good old Mötörhead-style guitar solo, all of that stuff is really catchy, fun, and «igniting». And the title track, although much slower, shows great skill in the vocal arranging of the band's major political declaration — "don't wanna live, don't wanna give, don't wanna be E-M-P-I-R-E" with several lines of overdubbed pleading vocals, convincingly striking out a note of utmost black despair.
ʽLos Angeles Is Burningʼ was the single — maybe they calculated that any track titled «[Insert Major City Name Here] Burning», once The Clash set the initial trend, would automatically be a hit, but this one wasn't much of one, and for a good reason: a bitt too slow and lumbering for a proper anthem, and, for some reason, stealing the main riff from the Ramones' ʽBeat On The Bratʼ for the major hookline. (Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbeakers' fame adds some guest star guitar for a change, but it does not help much).
Still, cute little hooks can be dug up in other spots as well — they come up with a good chorus for ʽAll There Isʼ, add a strange lo-fi guitar coda to ʽAtheist Peaceʼ, get a fine anthemic triple guitar intro for ʽLet Them Eat Warʼ, invent a gruff dirge-like riff for ʽBoot Stampingʼ... overall, it looks like Gurewitz's return has achieved the impossible — for a brief while, the band seems to be caring about the sonic side of their business almost as much as it continues caring for their public image. Like Alice Cooper says, "it's just the little things that drive me wild", and, surprise surprise, there are enough of these little things on The Empire to make it into Bad Religion's most interesting album of the 2000s, even though — mind you! — this is not saying much. But at least it is enough to fish them out another thumbs up.
Check "The Empire Strikes First" (MP3) on Amazon