Album review: Bad Religion – “Christmas Songs”

Album review: Bad Religion – “Christmas Songs”

Bad Religion made a Christmas album.

I repeat, this is not a joke. Get out your intentionally uncool Santa sweater, because there really is a Bad Religion Christmas album. With its inspired name of “Christmas Songs” I was still holding out hope it was some elaborate long-con until the album showed up in my inbox.

The songs, all 8 of them, are traditional Christmas songs played in Bad Religion’s famously fast and melodic style. The album closes with a remix of “American Jesus.” While many other punk and rock bands have produced Christmas albums, or contributed to compilations, the song choices are usually more modern songs like “Deck the halls” or “All I want for Christmas is you.” Here, Bad Religion has picked 8 of the most blatantly religious Christmas songs. Really all that’s missing from this album turning into a remote church service is “Ave Maria.”

The ironic juxtaposition of a band called Bad Religion singing holy hymns isn’t lost in translation. Opener “Hark the Harold Angel sings” is a great fake-out. It starts with unaccompanied vocals, singing the first verse in a traditional devout style. Before the first verse is over, the guitars and drums kick-in. The tempo ramps up to that of a usual Bad Religion song.  Did you know there were multiple verses to “Hark the Harold Angel Sings”? Apparently, Bad Religion does. They bash through 4 of them in less than 2 minutes.

Similarly, “O come all ye faithful” uses all the traditional lyrics. All of them, and only them.  Where did all these second and third verses come from? As fast, and technically accurate as the songs are… there is something jarring about hearing a punk band sing “O Jesus! For evermore be Thy name adored. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” The recording is clean enough to hear every syllable and every note. “O Come Emmanuel” follows.

“White Christmas” is easily the most secular track on the album. Graffin’s vocals are laid over something that sounds questionably similar to “Blitzkrieg Bop.” While the original song evokes longing for the Christmases of yesteryear, the Bad Religion song evokes no feeling at all. It’s as hollow as Bing Crosby’s heart.

Unsurprisingly, “Little drummer boy” has a lot of drums, and not a lot of guitars. Halfway through the album, I still can’t shake the feeling of being in a new-age extremist mega-church, where the pastor has reworked classical songs to sound “hip” by adding in a snare drum. Ever watch “Jesus Camp”?

“God rest ye merry gentlemen” takes full advantage of the traditional punk backing vocals of “ahhhs” which oddly fit in perfectly to the overall song structure. Again, this is one of those classical religious Christmas songs listeners will be surprised to find has more than one verse. “What child is his?” and “Angels we have heard on high” (the one where the chorus of “Gloria” is sung as a series of descending scales) follow.

To complete the mind-fuck that is this entire album, a remix of “American Jesus,” concludes.

I’ve listened to this album for a week now, trying to get over my initial discomfort. But you know what? Maybe that was the goal. In hearing a band who so frequently challenges mindless nationalism and religiosity sing out some of the most religious and traditional tunes, the original songs’ somewhat creepy lyrics are heard for what they are. Growing up surrounded by “Hark the Harold Angel sings,” you stop hearing the words and mindlessly hum along. In truth, there’s actually not a lot of difference between the lyrics of some of these classics and “American Jesus.”

Maybe the irony is too far over my head.   I kind of like the album, and I kind of feel really guilty for liking it. Then again, I went to Catholic school.  The album is due out October 29th, because Thanksgiving isn’t a real thing and we should all start decorating for Christmas before Halloween.

4/5 Stars

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