To paraphrase an old Clash t-shirt, L.A.'s Bad Religion is the only punk/hardcore group that matters. In a career that spans 17 years (with most of the original lineup intact), they've issued nine studio albums, one live IP, one "best-of" collection, two EPs and numerous singles, first on import from their own Los Angeles label, the now-famous Epitaph Records, and since 1993 for Sony across the world.
     More importantly, unlike most veteran punk groups who rely on an distant back catalog from their teen years to draw fans, Bad Religion's fan base has steadily risen with each new release, to the point that they routinely sell a million copies of each LP worldwide-a milestone only a small, elite hanciflil of groups have ever reached in punk history-and have become a prominent charing act in Germany. Their sold-out tours now reach far beyond North America and Europe, to wild, screaming crowds in Asia, Australia, and even South America, as well as major stadium festivals with everyone from Pearl Jam (they are a favorite of Eddie Vedder, who sang on one of their records) to Neil Young, to the Sex Pistols reunion dates. Such are the rewards for a group that has stuck to their guns, not only by constanfly provmg their inherent integrity, rare in the rock business, but also in amassing such an impressive and respected catalog.
     Even more unusually, Bad Religion is one of those rare bands whose music continues to improve with experience: Each IP is even more a knockout than the last, as proven again by 1995's smash Ric Ocasek- produced The Gray Race, considered by many a fan and critic to be the crowning moment in the band's long and storied career. And perhaps to the surprise of no one, the band's brand new masterstroke,_________, is set to blow away even their most ardent supporter's highest expectations.
     Recorded in Ithaca, New York, partly in singer/songwriter Greg Graffin's new, well-appointed home studio (in which he also recorded his gorgeous new solo IP under the name "American lesion"), and produced by the band with help from producer Alex _______and engineer Ron ___________, this new work is a stunning triumph. As with other stellar '90s Bad Religion albums such as 1993's Recipe for Hate, 1995's Stranger Than Ekdon, and the recent scorching live workout Tested, the music is once again a numbing, yet crisp and beautiftil aural assault, a fierce juggernaut offset by the band's core strengths: supremely catchy songs and brilliantly contentious lyrics.
     Still often working in the tempos of the early '80s Southern California hardcore scene from which they came, Bad Religion nevertheless crafts some of the catchiest and most supremely melodic, clean-sounding guitar music around, with words that could only have come from an incredibly erudite lyricist such as Greg Gra~. They also rely more on high-speed hooks and stunmng, rapid-fire melodies than on volume-bashing to establish their soaring impact, clean, over-driven power, and hummable tunes. Uke Fugazi, Bad Religion's innovation is to take the integrity and passion of punk and mix in generous helpings of pure, Beatles-style classic pop. This enables them to bring the genre to broader audiences, far beyond the constricting coniines of the "three chords and an attitude" stereotype.
     All of this Is wonderfully apparent on the new LP. Best of all, a good portion of it shows off the band's finesse and dexterity at the more stately tempos of classic punk, allowing guitarists/punk legends Greg Hetson and Brian Baker room to move within the classic, post-Buzzcocks wall of sound, underpinned by bassist Jay Bendey and drummer Bobby Schayer's thundering bass and drums. The unique contributions of these five members are what make Bad Religion not only an incredible band, but a fascinating one at that.