Bad Religion Suffer- 1988
RMR Album Rating- 10
Bad Religion’s 1988 release Suffer is their first signature album, and it is the first release in their golden trilogy of albums that also includes No Control- from the 1989, and Against the Grain- from 1990. Suffer is also considered by many to be the album that officially launched the third wave of punk rock.
In terms of instrumental style on Suffer, the name of the game is speed. The album moves along at a blistering pace that is driven by a twin guitar attack played by Brett Gurewitz and Greg Hetson. The total album run time is just under 30-minutes, and there are very few songs that even break 2-minute barrier, but somehow they still manage to pack every song with pace changes and infectious unique musical hooks that keep everything diverse, interesting, and never monotonous. However, as impressive as the instrumentation is on the album, my favorite part of Suffer is reserved for Greg Graffin’s Mensa level vocal and lyrical execution.
First of all, I love Graffin’s vocal tone, pitch, and articulation. Then you have the lyrical content. Almost every song on Suffer is centered around controversial topics such as the government, politics, and religion (not your typical dinner table conversation fare), but Graffin sings about these topics with such intelligence and conviction that regardless of your political or religious beliefs, you find yourself singing right along with him with the same conviction, energy, and fire that he puts into the songs. Plus, both Greg Graffin and Brett Guretwitz (the band’s primary songwriters and lyricists) have vocabularies that are simply amazing, which certainly adds legitimacy and added astuteness to the song topics. With all that being said, the most impressive part of Graffin’s singing is that he is able to insert his PHD-level, four syllable words right into the blistering speed of the music and completely keep up. He never misses a note; he is always in complete control of his vocal delivery, and the total package of his lyrical sermons paired with the music is insanely melodic and catchy.
Here are two examples of the blistering speed of Suffer, and both Graffin’s and Guretwitz’s ultra-intelligent, controversial, yet insanely catchy lyrics. I find the speed of music, lyrical content, and vocal control on both these songs to be simple amazing.
“1000 Fools”- written by Brett Gurewitz
(Read the lyrics and listen to 1000 More Fools)
“I heard them say that the meek shall reign on earth,/ Phantasmal myriads of sane/ bucolic birth./ I’ve seen the rapture in a starving baby’s eyes,/ Inchoate beatitude, the Lord of the Flies./ So what does it mean when your mind starts to stray?/ Kaleidoscoping images of love on the way./ Brother you’d better get down on your knees and pay./ 1,000 more fools are being born every fucking day./ They try to tell me that the lamb is on the way,/ With microwave transmissions they bombard us every day./The masses are obsequious, contented in their sleep./ The vortex of their minds ensconsed within the murky deep./ So what does it mean when your mind starts to stray?/ Kaleidoscoping images of love on the way./ Brother you’d better get down on your knees and pay./ 1,000 more fools are being born every fucking day.
Part IV (The Index Fossil)- written by Greg Graffin
(Read the lyrics and listen to Part IV (The Index Fossil))
We’re widespread and well fed,/ The earth’s rotating fate is in our head, oh yeah./
We’re dominant and prominent,/ And our diety’s omnipotent, oh yeah./ And immortality’s in our mastermind,/ And we destroy everything we can find./ And tomorrow when the human clock stops and the world stops turning,/ We’ll be an index fossil buried in our own debris./ We’re listless, promiscuous,/ And life to us is either hit or miss, oh yeah./ We’re savoir faire and debonaire/ And things we do are done with pride and care, oh yeah./ And immortality’s in our mastermind,/ And we destroy everything that we find./ And tomorrow when the human clock stops and the world stops turning,/ We’ll be an index fossil buried in our own debris.
See, immortality’s in our mastermind,/ And we destroy everything that we find./And tomorrow when the human clock stops and the world stops turning,/ We’ll be an index fossil buried in our own debris./ In our own debris.
Those are just two examples, but every song moves along at that pace and contains the same speed, melodic hooks, and perspicacious lyrics. All the songs are absolute winners, but the last 5 songs in particular (“Part II (The Numbers Game),” “What Can You Do,” “Do What You Want,” the aforementioned “Part IV,” and “Pessimistic Lies”) provide a spectacular closing, and make up my favorite part of the album.
Click here to listen to Part II (The Numbers Game)
Click here to listen to What Can You Do
Click here to listen to Do What You Want
Click here to listen to Pessimistic Lines
On another topic, it is important to note the influence that Bad Religion and Suffer had on punk music. If you look at a very basic timeline of punk rock, you have proto-punk bands like The Stooges dating all the way back to the late 60’s, but punk rock didn’t really hit with full impact until the mid 70’s with The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. In the 80’s, the genre experienced what I consider the second major wave of punk bands, which included, among others, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and Circle Jerks (these bands were labeled “Hardcore” punk). Then in the late 80’s, Bad Religion started what many consider the third major wave of punk rock with Suffer, which I would describe as “Melodic Punk.” Suffer’s sound spawned a league of followers that made up the third wave of punk rock like NOFX, Rancid, and Green Day. To create this sound, Bad Religion took the speed, aggression, and tendentiously charged lyrics of classic punk rock, and they combined it with melodic and harmonious pop-style hooks. Bad Religion’s influences really came from two areas: The hardcore punk scene of the mid 80’s and 60’s pop music. Brett Gurewitz is even quoted as saying that his two biggest musical influences are The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and if you combine those two 60’s bands with Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Circle Jerks— you get the sound that Bad Religion forged on Suffer (Current Bad Religion band members Brian Baker and Greg Hetson even played in Minor Threat and Circle Jerks, respectively).
Bad Religion’s music is certainly packed with hooks, and many fans and critics claim that Bad Religion was the original pop-punk band. Personally, I don’t consider Bad Religion pop-punk, but I don’t disagree that they opened Pandora’s Box for the much more shallow bands that made up the true pop-punk movement like Blink 182, New Found Glory, and Sum 41. Those bands are drastically different than Bad Religion in terms of their musicianship, lyrics, and simplicity. Bad Religion’s pop-punk gravitational pull exists, but it’s just not strong enough to bring them into the genre, and there are way to many non-pop elements in their music to keep them separated from it. To close out this point, I agree with music critic Christine Di Bella who said that pop-punk is “taken to its most accessible point, a point where it barely reflects its lineage at all, except in the three-chord song structures (Wikipedia),” and Bad Religion just doesn’t fit that description at all.
All in All, Suffer is not only a fantastic record that I have been listening to for over 20-years and have never grown tired of, but it is also an important record that launched an entirely new wave of punk rock music— and for better or worse, Bad Religion at least planted the seeds on Suffer that eventually pushed punk rock bands into the true mainstream, after over 40-years of punk rock history.
It should also be noted that Greg Graffin is not just singing his lyrical lectures off the cuff and using a thesaurus to look up big words. Graffin has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Geology from UCLA, he then got his masters degree in Geology from UCLA. From there, he obtained a PHD from Cornell in Zoology, where he published his dissertation entitled “Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist Worldview: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology.” Plus, he is regular professor in several science courses at both UCLA and Cornell, and he received the Harvard Secular Society’s “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism” on April 26, 2008. It’s hard to imagine that he does all this while having fronted Bad Religion for over 30-years, but he has, so he certainly has the intellectual prowess to back up his passionate and ultra-intelligent lyrics… and he must have great time management.
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