Bad Religion

The Gray Race

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It's a testament to a band that their weakest work is still this great. There's no question that the loss of guitarist Brett Gurewitz hurts the band. Gurewitz had a hot, edgy sound, and wrote half the songs, including all four singles off 1994's stunning Stranger Than Fiction. Losing such an awesome talent would cripple most groups. Fortunately, the other writer, extraordinary vocalist Greg Graffin, remains. He too has penned so many of Bad Religion's most memorable songs, and one can now add a bunch from Gray Race to this list. Moreover, this LP shows why it's an enormous relief this band survives and still prospers -- there's no better punk rock band in the world. Not even close. No one else can mix such high octane tunefulness, the most thought-provoking lyric sheet around, and Graffin's still ungodly, powerful voice. Hell, does anyone in America deliver better harmonies than this bunch? No! The standouts are the mid-tempo chuggers -- "Pity the Dead" is so catchy it hurts, with a knockdown bridge that stops the heart as Graffin strains for a dramatic high note. Likewise, "Spirit Shine" and the radio hit "A Walk" show the kind of melodic gifts a band should have to beg Lucifer for. The only reason Gray Race is even remotely weaker than their other LPs is because sympathetic producer Ric Ocasek (the Cars) smoothes out the firepower a tad. As well, without Gurewitz's half, a couple of songs seem so-so by past standards, and there's less variety. But make no mistake, Gray Race is one of the finest LPs any American band released in 1996; may they make records 'til the title of this LP refers to their hair.

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