In an interview prior to the release of The Dissent of Man, Brett Gurewitz had referenced Tom Petty and The Kinks as influential outlets for the album’s songwriting. It was a disarming statement at first, but why can’t a Bad Religion album sound a little like something Ray Davies would have written? Yet as The Dissent of Man unfolds, it is clear that it is still a distinctively Bad Religion album- compact melodies, sharp guitars and Brooks Wackerman’s great percussion work- but there are many instances where they venture out into the kind of ambition unseen since Into the Unknown.
It isn’t a grating, blatantly abstract form of musical diversity- they’ve exercised these textures with certain restraint. Most evident perhaps, in the closing “I Won’t Say Anything”, an acoustic driven, soft rock-tinged tune that will play closer to Tom Petty and Ray Davies than Greg Ginn and Steve Soto. But the song’s diversion from the regular Bad Religion sound is still in line with the album’s bigger thematic nuances- so it doesn’t feel out of place. Mid tempo tracks “Won’t Somebody” and “The Devil in Stitches” are from the same book as “The Answer” and “Honest Goodbye” while “The Pride And the Pallor” is a great example of forward thinking songwriting blended perfectly with accessible rock aesthetics and their trademark lyrical attack.
Where The Dissent of Man really tests the waters are with its two (yes, two) love-themed tracks, and as alarming as it is to know that Bad Religion have written a love song, it is less so once you hear it. Lyrically, it’s a mix of cheese and embittered lovelorn couplets in “Cyanide”; “Let me say / (Oh oh) well there’s no place left to hide / (Oh oh) from the loneliness inside”, complemented well by the song’s country-punk flavoured sound. “Turn Your Back On Me” is equally pessimistic.
The most effective aspects of The Dissent of Man are when Bad Religion ups the tempo and dives into more familiar waters. “Only Rain” and “The Resist Stance” (first heard on 30 Years Live) is closer to vintage BR, while tracks like “Meeting of the Minds” and “Wrong Way Kids” would not feel out of place on Generator or Against the Grain.
Gurewitz has said that there have been a few cases where they would step back from the progressive writing to pen a more straightforward punk album (as with New Maps of Hell and The Empire Strikes First) but this is not one of those times. Greg Graffin has made no secret of the band’s intake of music outside of punk rock since their earliest of days. Their latest simply shows these influences on a more prominent level. Some 30 years after their formation, The Dissent of Man is proof that one of the smartest bands on Earth is still challenging music on a multitude of levels. They’ve now challenged long-time fans and listeners as well, with remarkable effect.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.