BAD RELIGION: THE NEW AMERICA (2000)
1) You've Got A Chance; 2) It's A Long Way To The Promise Land; 3) A World Without Melody; 4) New America; 5) 1000 Memories; 6) A Streetkid Named Desire; 7) Whisper In Time; 8) Believe It; 9) I Love My Computer; 10) The Hopeless Housewife; 11) There Will Be A Way; 12) Let It Burn; 13) Don't Sell Me Short.
A bit of a change here, and an overall improvement. First, none other than pop master-craftsman Todd Rundgren himself was brought in as producer — and, although working relationships between Graffin and the «True Star» were said to be rather tense, Todd still managed to leave a very strong power pop stamp on the proceedings: quite obviously, he did not give a damn about Bad Religion's hardcore reputation, and did everything he could to slow down the freaky tempos, add extra ring and color to the guitars, smother the melodies in choral harmonies, and, overall, try to have the band play four chords wherever they would previously settle for three.
In short, even though Graffin is still listed as sole writer on most of the tracks, it is probably not a coincidence that it is exactly this Rundgren-produced album to feature a song that begins with the words "I don't want to live in a world without melody / Sometimes the rhythmic din of society is too much for me" — substitute «society» for «Bad Religion» and you will see just how much «The Wizard» was able to hypnotize Graffin. Of course, even without Todd, the band was already moving from «hardcore» to «popcore» for quite a bit of time, so the seeds fell on fertile soil. The problem is — what are we planting, exactly?
And here comes the second first: the album is a huge lyrical improvement over No Substance as well. Although the main focus is on society perspectives as usual, there is a three-song «suite» stuck in the middle focused on far more personal affairs: ʽ1000 Memoriesʼ is about Graffin's recent divorce, while ʽA Streetkid Named Desireʼ and ʽWhisper In Timeʼ deal with past memories and, basically, add a little bit of introspection — ever wanted to know how come Greg Graffin became what he is? well, here is your chance to get a glance at the man behind The Man.
But the rest of the songs, too, are delivered in a somewhat different key, shifting the emphasis from Chomsky-style radical hatred and propaganda to visionary sermons: with track names like ʽYou've Got A Chanceʼ, ʽIt's A Long Way To The Promise Landʼ, and ʽThere Will Be A Wayʼ, you can see that there is — just for a change — an attempt to stir up some positive emotions, and do it in a way that is not necessarily linked to the right here and the right now, but at least purely formally aspires to the timelessness of the message. Not that the message itself is new or anything — and the lyrics are definitely not among Greg's best ("Shut your eyes, see the future's distant shore / March ahead more enlightened than before / And there's sure to be bumps and distractions / But I know we'll get through / There will be me, there will be you" — yes, years of radicalism and hardcore musicianship may inflict heavy damage even on a university professor). But at least you no longer feel yourself stuck in the middle of a narrow-minded political rally, behind locked and barred doors, and that is a big relief.
All this leads to an overall increase in memorability — with the choruses bent just a bit more on melody and just a bit less on indoctrination, they are occasionally fun to sing along (unless they become too anthemic, as on the title track). There is even an «experimental» track — ʽI Love My Computerʼ, the next installment in Greg's ongoing saga of «How Electronics Helps Ruin Our Lives And Turn Us Into Mindless Puppets», this time with a mock-subliminal message of "click me, click me" built in and little electronic burps and blurbs adding up to the atmosphere. Hilarious, but the chorus of "I just click and you just go away" is the catchiest bit on the album. And highly instructive, too. For instance, I just clicked — and Bad Religion just went away. Amazing, isn't it? The wonderful world of technology.
On a technical note, The New America sees Gurewitz briefly returning to the fold — co-writing one of the songs, ʽBelieve Itʼ, and playing guitar on it, presaging his eventual permanent return on the next album. Curiously, it is one of the poppiest, jangliest numbers on the album, even though Gurewitz was never the primary pop engine in the band — well, blame it all on Todd, I guess.
Anyway, just for a change, I give this album a thumbs up in recognition of its rather unusual status in BR's catalog, and most importantly, in the overall context — it is such a huge improvement on the pathetic loaded boredom of No Substance that this simply has to be somehow reflected in the overall chronology. Do keep in mind, though, that it is far from a fan favorite: even those who are accustomed to the «popcore» direction often have a hard time acknowledging Todd Rundgren's right to put his nose in the genre.