Bad Religion- No Control
Written on January 6, 2010
“Culture was the seed of proliferation but it’s gotten melded/ Into an inharmonic whole, to an inharmonic whole”…
This opening verse from No Control’s title track perfectly epitomizes the entire album. The music is played ferociously fast; the provocative lyrics are delivered at a super speedy pace, yet behind all the aggression and venom is songwriting based in Beatles style melody and Beach Boys style multi-part vocal harmonies— which makes the album unbelievably catchy.
No Control is the second chapter in Bad Religion’s golden trilogy of near flawless albums, which also includes 1988’s Suffer (this album’s predecessor), and 1990’s Against The Grain. These three albums are similar in many ways, but there are discernible differences between each album, and No Control’s differentiating factor is its catchiness. It is not quite as consistently fast as Suffer, and its lyrics are not quite as thesaurus heavy as Against The Grain’s, but it is absolutely the most catchy Bad Religion album, and it is one of the most catchy albums in my entire record collection. Plus, it somehow manages to deliver this unbelievable catchiness without any shallowness or lack of thematic complexity.
The songs on No Control are all short, with only 5 of its 15 songs breaking the 2-minute barrier, but Bad Religion still manages to pack every song with plenty of roller coaster style ups & downs and twists & turns, so although the songs are stylistically similar and short, the pace and tempo changes give the album plenty of surprising diversity.
The album starts with a blitzkrieg of three songs: “Change of Ideas,” “Big Bang,” and “No Control.” These three opening songs all flow together, and they are the clearest example of No Control’s speed and aggression balanced perfectly on a razor thin tightrope of catchiness.
Click here to listen to the triple threat of: Change of Ideas> Big Bang> No Control
Although these first three songs set an almost indomitable tone and pace for the rest of the album, it does not let up at all from there, and the remaining songs shoot off at the speed of machine gun fire with precise accuracy. The other highlights for me are “I want to Conquer the World,” “Henchman,” and “You.”
“I Want To Conquer The World” flies out of the gates with with great guitar charged instrumentation and 5 verses of deceivingly non-anarchist, poignant lyrics. Plus, the song still clocks in under 2 and a half minutes. It is also a live staple for Bad Religion. (Click here to listen to I Want To Conquer The World)
“Henchman” is another major winner for me, and I will challenge anyone to find another song that packs so many eloquent, elaborate, and expressive lyrics into a 1-minute song. Here are the lyrics to “Henchman.” Read the lyrics and see if you can keep up while listening. (Click here to listen Henchman)
“Stranded/ In a life in which your struggle for acceptance is a never-ending chore,/ Upbraided/ For your actions past and present and rewarded for the ideas of the future’s bright open door./ The henchman/ Is the human analogue of the suffering multitudes/ Who like good dogs sit and lick for their reward/ So what good advice have I got for you/ To insure against your likely metamorphosis into this reprobate?/ Don’t be a henchman/ Stand on your laurels,/ Do what no one else does and praise the good of other men For good man’s sake./ And when everyone else in the world follows your lead (Although a cold day in hell it will surely be)/ That’s when the entire world shall live in harmony.”
Lastly, I’ll highlight “You,” which is extremely catchy and a perfect example to demonstrate Bad Religion’s writing style. Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz have always said that they take simple pop song structures and then add punk rock elements to that musical architecture. Gurewitz (who wrote “You”) has also always cited The Beatles as one of his primary influences, and “You” is definitely a nod to The Beatles— and more specifically, it is a nod to the Beatles song “We Can Work It Out.” Both songs share some of the same lyrical themes; Gurewitz even quotes “We Can Work It Out” with the line “There’s no time for fussing or fighting my friend,” which creates a direct correlation between the two songs. Plus, there are other similar verses. Here are two verses to compare.
“There’s a place where everyone can be right/ Even though you remain determined to be opposed”
“Try to see it my way/ Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on/ While you see it your way”
“And eternity, my friend, is a long fucking time/ Because there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend”
“Life is very short/ and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend”
The two songs clearly have different meanings. “We Can Work It Out” is specifically about a relationship, and “You” tackles more general and universal themes, but the songs share some of the same ideas, and Gurewitz was certainly inspired by The Beatles’ song.
My only criticism of No Control is that the second half of the album is not quite as strong as the first half. But overall, No Control is easily a winner, as it is played fantastically fast, it’s loaded with complex lyrical themes, and it still somehow manages to be mysteriously catchy– with multiple instrumental and lyrical hooks lurking around every corner of every song.
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