Saturday, January 26, 2013

True North

When I was growing up, I didn't have much interest in music. I remember wanting to play guitar, but I can't remember liking any specific bands or musicians. It wasn't until I was nearly out of secondary school (so, around 16 or 17) that I started listening to stuff for the sake of it, rather than just what happened to be playing on the radio.

The first band I ever got into properly was Bad Religion. This was entirely thanks to their presence in Crazy Taxi, which I played to death on the Dreamcast. I was already aware of The Offspring, whose songs made up the other half of the soundtrack; I found a copy of a Bad Religion compilation album, All Ages, in the only music shop in my home town.

I can't remember what order I bought their "proper" albums in, but I know it wasn't chonologically accurate. I'm pretty sure I had all if not most of the Atlantic (aka, "sell-out") releases before I got a hold of any of the earlier Epitaph stuff (I remember starting with The Grey Race and Stranger than Fiction, which had all the Crazy Taxi tracks on them); it took me forever to find Against The Grain and I ended up getting a copy from one of my university friends (from Nevada) whose dad owned a record store.

Actually, that means I bought Bad Religion's entire discography (at that time, 12 years' worth of releases, from 1988's Suffer through to The New America, one of two discs I don't still have) in a little over two years. It suddenly strikes me as an awfully quick progression from "never heard of these guys" to "omg buy all the cds". While I was still at university I even went to Dublin to see them play, which I'm pretty sure I ever went to a gig where I wasn't at school with anybody in the band1.

It turned out I was just in time for their return to Epitaph, the indie label the band had started in 1980 to sell their own stuff which meant a whole bunch of new albums in the intervening years. It's a bit like marathoning a TV show to catch up to a new season, though - I had a whole lot of new (to me) stuff to get through very quickly, then suddenly it was years between albums.

I'm still not sure what hooked me on Bad Religion in particular. I liked some Offspring stuff but wouldn't have considered myself a fan, and most of the other punk stuff I've tried since2 hasn't really stuck. I'd like to think it's the balance of social conscience in the band's politics; unlike some bands, they're never preachy and often don't have answers to the problems they're frustrated by. The general perspective is probably best expressed by the song Do What You Want - I have enough of my own shit to deal with, so you do whatever you like so long as you don't wreck up my efforts at self-fulfillment.

The exact order of my favourite Bad Religion albums varies, but my top three (at the time of writing) are No Control (1989), The Grey Race (1996) and The Empire Strikes First (2004). I'm still not familiar enough with their latest album as it only came out last Monday, but it's a very energetic and angry punk album coming from a band that's been going for 34 years.

1 Like I said, I wasn't really into music before this point; the idea of travelling any distance to listen to music I already had on CD was weird until I was a proper fan of something. I've now seen Bad Religion play three times live: twice in Dublin and once in London.

2 I've got a couple of Offspring albums (mixed), three or maybe four Pennywise discs (very good, accessible) and have also tried Propagandhi and Anti-Flag (too preachy), The Bouncing Souls and The Vandals (a bit jokey) and NOFX (made zero impression).

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