PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Bad Religion: The Empire Strikes First

Peter Su

Far be it for me to badmouth an album that badmouths Bush, but anyone willing to give this repeated playings already stands an excellent chance of finding Dubya's name on a ballot no more tempting than bin Laden's.


Bad Religion

The Empire Strikes First

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2004-06-08
UK Release Date: 2004-06-07
Amazon
iTunes

If you were head honcho Greg Graffin, you'd be miffed, too. After having popped the question way back in the early days of Reagan (How Could Hell Be Any Worse?), it must grate to see a not-clinically-moronic goon like Bush trump your rhetorical query with all manner of new and interesting ("May you live in interesting times" interesting) answers in real life real-time. If you've been yelling at the top of your lungs over the warm winters caused by air pollution, what's left to say when the ice caps melt and New York is the new Atlantis? What happens to the Doomsday prophets when Doomsday actually comes? (Do they file for unemployment?)

If you're Graffin, you continue on with the same urgency that you've always used (because you didn't have the foresight of getting speakers that go to 11). Never musically catchy enough to transcend their message, Bad Religion are good enough to make unwieldy but meaningful lyrics compelling. For all the ferocity of their sonic assault, they still rise or fall on the symbiosis of message redeeming music and vice versa. Like Michael Moore, Graffin pushes propaganda. Which is fine and, under the circumstances, necessary. But good propaganda should rally the faithful as well as convert the infidels. Especially now, with Bush's fundamentalist crackdown on civil rights and preemptive class war strike on the poor, the traditionally liberal wedge of the population -- and that definitely includes Bad Religion's cadre of socially conscious fans -- is already itching to beat Bush (again).

Given the times, it's reasonable that Graffin and Gurewitz should be even more pessimistically "us and them" than usual. And, in theory, I'm glad they finally decided to concentrate on sticking it to hypocritical Christian fundamentalists with all the gusto their name implies. That they do so now shows that they know what's going on from day to day, that they haven't become so desensitized by their own 20-plus years of proselytizing that all their visions of apocalypse are now as much knee-jerk reactions as "Los Angeles is Burning".

Still, despite Graffin and Gurewitz's intelligence and historical awareness, their artistic vision here suffers from oversimplification. Consistent with the album's association of religious extremism with war, "Atheist Piece" posits secular rationalism against the dangers of unquestioning faith. From the "bitter cold winds of discontent" (of, presumably, the last century), Graffin declares, "the modern world emerged triumphantly / But now it seems we've stalled and it's time to de-evolve and relive the dark chapters of history."

Certainly, the World Wars that devastated Europe bred an existentialist crisis (and actual existentialism) that eroded religion. And, certainly, the Christianity versus Islam undertone running through Bush's speeches (or John Ashcroft's "Jesus is America's only king") (or Condoleezza Rice's "Those people don't think like we do") would have been understandable to a Crusader.

But to argue simple de-evolution ignores the more complex realities. Without dismissing the losses Americans suffered or sacrifices they made, the World Wars caused tremendously more damage in Europe and Asia. Moreover, the Second World War ended with America eagerly taking up the mantle of defending the free world from Godless communists. If the rest of the world experienced an existential crisis in the wake of the Wars, many Americans took the opposite step of extending Manifest Destiny -- and all its self-assured religious underpinnings -- beyond their own shores.

Before it began, the current disgrace in Iraq was overwhelmingly more popular in America than in any other major country (heck, maybe any country), even England. The rest of the world hadn't unlearned the lessons of the previous century any more than Americans had unlearned theirs. Rather, each party behaved according to type. After beating the atheist Soviets, America had the power but not the cause; thanks to Al Qaeda, she had pretext for the actual, honest-to-God Crusade the devout always knew we had it in us to fight. Just as Ambrose Bierce defined piracy as "commerce without its folly-swaddles, just as God made it", attacking Iraq was -- after the drawn-out, geographically scattered Cold War -- Crusading done Divinely Right: in the Middle East, with real weapons and killing and stuff, against (supposed) Islamic extremists.

Thankfully, the recent overt showing of the (Christian) fanaticism that has always existed in America hasn't gone unnoticed by the rest of us. If anything, this is -- at least in America -- the last stand of the Dark Agers. Or the secular rationalists, depending on how you look at it (and what happens in November). But to say that the Dark Agers actually went anywhere between 1945 and now misses the point.

As propaganda, this fails by offering little to convince the five percent who haven't decided to -- but might -- vote Kerry. Those undecided will likely have to be convinced with concerns like personal finances and Medicare benefits rather than from ever having the chilling realization that Bush and his gang are thugs and bullies (Bush is the sort of person you can sit down and have a beer with). With so much on the line, it's understandable Bad Religion should be desperate, offering a too-simplistic vision distilled from actual knowledge (kind of like Bush, but with actual knowledge). But propaganda this extreme and -- unlike Moore -- humorless will only incite the choir to appear even more frighteningly fanatic to the five-percenters than they already seem. Far be it for me to badmouth an album that badmouths Bush, but anyone willing to give this repeated playings already stands an excellent chance of finding Dubya's name on a ballot no more tempting than bin Laden's.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.