BAD RELIGION: NO SUBSTANCE (1998)
1) Hear It; 2) Shades Of Truth; 3) All Fantastic Images; 4) The Biggest Killer In American History; 5) No Substance; 6) Raise Your Voice!; 7) Sowing The Seeds Of Utopia; 8) The Hippy Killers; 9) The State Of The End Of The Millenium Address; 10) The Voracious March Of Godliness; 11) Mediocre Minds; 12) Victims Of The Revolution; 13) Strange Denial; 14) At The Mercy Of Imbeciles; 15) The Same Person; 16) In So Many Ways.
If I were Greg Graffin, I would think twice before calling one of my albums No Substance. Not only do you have to wait until track no. 5 before certifying that he means America as a whole and not just himself as part of it, you have to find a way to convince yourself that this next batch of same-sounding, completely predictable, and, by now, thoroughly toothless Bad Religion slogans somehow pretends to having more substance than, oh I dunno, the Bill Clinton government, to give but one of the many examples.
The thing is, No Substance probably represents the highest peak of Graffin's political activism — at this point, he is not merely the «hardcore equivalent» of Noam Chomsky, he is making every single effort he can to shove that fact into our faces. Yes, there is nothing inherently wrong with politics in music, and yes, Noam Chomsky has just as many rights to owning a personal musical agent as Rush Limbaugh, but at this point, there is so little that is truly «musical» about Bad Religion that I have no idea about the size of the potential dividends.
The transparent culprit is clearly ʽThe State Of The End Of The Millenium Addressʼ (yes, «millenium» explicitly printed with one ʽnʼ — what else do you expect from the rotten imperialist swine at Atlantic Records? guess they had to derail the message any stinky subversive way they could, embarrassing Mr. Graffin before all of his educated college audiences): over a threatening wall of feedback, you get to hear about how "The Internet has expanded our ability to pacify average Americans better than ever by offering fantastical adventures to every corner of the imagination", etc. etc. Perfectly convincing, but the only nagging suspicion is — if just about everything is part of The Plot, how about Bad Religion themselves? Where do they come in?
Honestly, I have no idea, except that three required listens to No Substance have drained me of 135 minutes of time that might have been more effectively spent planting bombs in the headquarters of The World's Most Evil Government, wherever that one is. As usual, there are a few catchy choruses — there always are at least a few catchy choruses on a Bad Religion album — but some of them are hicky almost beyond belief, such as "fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa, fa fa fa fa, raise your voice!": are we now relying on Sha Na Na methodology to convey the message? Others are just stupid (ʽThe Biggest Killer In American Historyʼ; ʽThe Hippy Killersʼ — both songs designed simply to make the listener sing along to the title), and I can only quote Mark Prindle on ʽMediocre Mindsʼ: "Next time Greg wants to bitch about somebody with a «mediocre mind»" I'll ask him to kindly not rip off the melody of ʽYummy Yummy Yummy, I've Got Love In My Tummyʼ in doing so". Pretty much summarizes my idea of the album, too.
Basically, what makes the difference between a Suffer-type album and a No Substance-type album is that the former somehow tried to express frustration in the music, while the latter invests 90% of the funds in the lyrics. All of these riffs, rhythms, and solos are punched out on total autopilot — although you cannot get this feeling by just comparing individual songs (Bad Religion does not operate in terms of songs), you have to listen to the albums from start to finish. There is no reason to doubt Graffin's sincerity, but that is the typical problem of «The Disillusioned Idealist»: the fewer people you see following your sermons, the more bitter you get about it, until, at some point, you simply start living for these sermons, dumping everything else. Well — if I want a sermon, I'll just download myself an audio book from Noam in person, rather than listen to his «musical» lackeys. Thumbs down, all you brothers and sisters under oppression.
Check "No Substance" (MP3) on Amazon