After 18 years, the punk band Bad Religion is still widely respected for keeping its music smart and socially conscious, and for launching the monumentally successful Epitaph Records label. But, boy, are its records getting more disposable: Since signing to a major label, Bad Religion's albums (1994's Stranger Than Fiction, 1995's The Gray Race, and the new No Substance) have gotten progressively more homogenous and forgettable. Singer/Ph.D. candidate Greg Graffin can use all the big words he wants, and even give a Jello Biafra-esque lecture on "The State Of The End Of The Millennium Address," but that doesn't mean No Substance isn't a leaden, clunky wreck, full of mushy riffing, eternally recycled hooks, and ludicrously overdubbed vocals. It doesn't help that Graffin seems to be running low on things to say (darn you, Mr. Authority Figure!), or that the chorus to "Raise Your Voice!" sounds like it might have been lifted from The Scorpions (which may just be because Campino of the lovable German punk band Die Toten Hosen provides a guest vocal). Maybe Graffin and company decided they'd reach more people by slickening their sound—and Bad Religion deserves credit for even bothering to make reasonably informed political statements in 1998—but No Substance simply doesn't work. When music is this bland, it's hard to find substance beneath the glossy surface.
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