Bad Religion is possibly my favourite band of all time. They’re definitely the band I listen to more than any other. When I order my iTunes library by Play Count, Bad Religion takes up 6 of the top 10 spots. It’s this love that made me so worried when I first heard about their latest release, Christmas Songs. The name is not a joke or some subversive, punk rock comment. This is Bad Religion, playing well known Christmas songs. Was that worry justified? Kind of.
Greg Graffin has never had the widest vocal range, although that has never stopped him creating some pretty impressive melodies and harmonies. But now we’re in the era of a well and truly middle aged Graffin, changing up live arrangements because his voice struggles to hit some of the marks he set in the 80s and 90s. So it’s an interesting choice to start Christmas Songs with an a Capella intro to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. But then it’s given the flat out melodic punk rock treatment, complete with a guitar pick shredding down the strings to launch into the chorus, and I know I’m listening to a Bad Religion record.
Once you hear the Bad Religion spin on one of these songs, you pretty much know exactly how they’ll all sound. But O Come, O Come Emmanuelle and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas sound like they’ve gone to the most effort to really add something new, instead of just upping the tempo and layering on the distorted guitars and palmed mutes.
God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman is by far the stand out for me. If it wasn’t for the festive lyrics, I’d assume this was a legit Bad Religion tune. Speaking of legit Bad Religion tunes, Christmas Songs wraps up with a completely non-Christmas song, a previously unreleased version of American Jesus form their awesome 1993 album, Recipe for Hate. Maybe I’m just too attached to the old version, but it didn’t sound that much different, and the small differences I did notice, I didn’t like. Tinnier, slighter and thinner, why bother?
Is Bad Religion’s Christmas Songs inessential? Completely… Is it terrible? Take away the familiar yuletide words and melodies and most of these would sound like, while not fantastic, at least totally serviceable Bad Religion songs. The not so amazing ones that they bury in the last few tracks on any given album. And if nothing else, you get 20 or so minutes of Brooks Wackerman proving he’s one of the greatest drummers in punk rock.