From the beginning, Bad Religion, a Los Angeles band, thought they had a plan for the world. “Don’t you know the place you live is a piece of shit?” Greg Graffin sang in 1982. “Don’t you know blind faith through lies won’t conquer it?” With CD titles like How Could Hell Be Any Worse? and No Control their politics and their altered sound made sense to a fan base that found no home in the violent hardcore that was coming out of Orange County bands in the late ’70s. The new punk depended more on pop music conventions than on vitriol and bad guitar playing. Call it punk pop.
Bad Religion stood out from the growing punk-pop pack with spare, guitar-based compositions that fizzed with power chords and gin-clear three-part vocal harmonies. The new punk, according to Bad Religion, was punk that you could sing along to. Through the years the band did something that the rest of rock seldom pulled off. They remained eloquent messengers, even if a frantic, South Park kind of cynicism crept into their lyrics over time: “And I want to conquer the world/ Expose the culprits and feed them to the children/ Do away with air pollution/ And then I’ll save the whales.”
If the harder edges of punk were rendered less than angry by punk pop’s cleaner styling and melodies on loan from the Beach Boys, consistent writing and a string of hits made Bad Religion something of a trusted brand name; “Infected” may be one of the finest punk-pop songs ever recorded. Punk pop is punk grown up, and in this maturation something is both lost and gained. After all, true punk — like sex and drugs — offered power to the powerless, if only for a few fleeting, dangerous moments.
BAD RELIGION, House of Blues, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, March 7-9, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $22.50.