Bad Religion has been around since 1982, and they have tread the same ground for such a long period of time that they now rock out from deep craters. After the universally dismissed The New America and The Process of Relief, this album has been greeted as a “return to form,” which is patently absurd once you consider that the L.A. punk group has been returning to form for the past two decades and that this is precisely the problem.
Like all Bad Religion albums, Greg Graffin’s sporadically verbose lyrics are of two varieties: the “we will berate the inconsequential senator’s son” or the “fight for our merciful beatitudes of gray riots.” On The Empire Strikes First, the lyrics may very well be at a fever pitch of insane, vaguely poetic and political musings. Witness “Atheist Peace”: “It seems we’ve stalled and it’s time to de-evolve and relive the dark chapters of history.” Or the completely mystifying “Los Angeles Is Burning”: “Where Malibu fires and radio towers conspire to dance again/ And I cannot believe the media Mecca.” Depending on whether or not you hold any affinity for Jim Morrison, that may very well be the best thing to ever say over a song. And amidst this silliness, Graffin incorporates random quotes from Thomas Wolfe and George Orwell, which somehow manages to make a joyously adolescent album that much more adolescent.
Musically, things are as they always were. However, it is a great pleasure to announce that the wayward “experiments” and tub-thumpers of No Substance and The Process of Relief have been replaced with completely tolerable ditties that don’t impede the album’s true epics (the titular track, “Boot Stamping On a Human Face Forever,” “The Quickening”) It all suggests one more album from a band you’re glad still exists, but that you really don’t want to listen to.
Archived article by John Shadrow
Red Letter Daze Contributor