Bad Religion – Christmas Songs (2013)

Posted: November 30, 2013 in Music

christmas-songsThe holidays mean different things to different people, but no matter your beliefs or how you celebrate the twelfth month of the year- there is one underlying theme that you just can’t escape: christmas music.

For most, that means breaking out the ugliest sweater your grandma ever made, spiking your egg nog with as much rum as you can handle and throwing on some Burl Ives or Bing Crosby. Holiday music – no matter the style –  seems to calm the insanity that surrounds the season and makes the days a little more “merry and bright”, or so they say.

Let’s be honest, though. The standard holiday classics are overplayed, redone by various artists with little variation, and usually become tiresome by the middle of the month. It’s barely past Thanksgiving, but if I hear “Jingle Bells” in one more car commercial, Santa will be bringing me a new television on Christmas morning. One without the remote thrown through the screen.

In an attempt to break up the “normal”, I try to search out holiday records with a little more punch. Over the past few years, I’ve treated friends and family alike to such gems as “A Twisted (Sister) Christmas”, Billy Idol’s “Happy Holidays”, and Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford’s “Winter Songs”, to name a few – but this year the stakes have been raised. A lot.

California legends Bad Religion have spent the last 34 years pretty much single-handedly keeping punk rock alive and well. With millions of fans and 16 great records, the band has apparently earned carte blanche among the scene – which is the only reason I can even comprehend the making of their seventeenth album – “Christmas Songs.”

You see, not only has the band had a long and illustrious career – but they have done so writing songs that constantly take aim at government and organized religion. Lead singer  Greg Graffin – an admitted atheist who holds a Ph. D from Cornell University – is the last person I would ever expect to be caroling about the birth of that guy from the Bible – but “Christmas Songs” is exactly that. You would think the band would use the opportunity to take shot after shot at christian beliefs – but, almost ironically, they don’t. Instead, the record is filled with pretty honest, straightforward renditions of classic christmas hymns – played, of course, at breakneck speed.

And it works. Completely.

Want an example of how powerful their signature vocal harmonies are? Listen to the a cappella first half of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. While they stay true to the structure on all of these tracks, the performances of guitarists Brett Gurewitz and Greg Hetson, bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Mike Wackerman make this undeniably a Bad Religion record first, and a christmas record second.

badreligionEven though the covers of “White Christmas”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Angels We Have Heard On High” and others are well worth your money (The only thing remotely out of place is a remake of the band’s own “American Jesus” that closes out the album), the real reason to stuff your punk rock stocking with this album is that Bad Religion is donating 20% of all sales of “Christmas Songs” to SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests)

So the album may be a subliminal slap in organized religion’s collective face after all, but the quality and conviction of this record makes it obvious that Bad Religion has a real affection for these standards – putting them in a long line of punk and metal acts that find religion interesting – even if they, like me, don’t believe in it for one god damn second.

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