Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin write a banner song, put it on a bore of an album. I think they knew “Los Angeles Is Burning” would stick out, and decent human beings that they are, programmed it at the halfway point so you don’t have to suffer all of The Empire Strikes First to hear it.
“Los Angeles” is a big, thumping anthem built for summer and for playing onstage at the Hollywood Bowl as the locals jump to their feet. Graffin’s voice is excellent, and even though the lyrics are desperate, the song doesn’t come off that way, being like something you’d expect from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers: It even builds to the end with a lyrical solo played by Mike Campbell. On drive-time rock radio, “Los Angeles” was blowing everything near it out of the water. So quite naturally, the wretches in charge yanked it for things sounding not a tenth as good.
But then there’s the rest of The Empire Strikes First, comprising the popularly earnest but hard-to-focus-on bray of loud punk. If the album has a message, you’d never know it without reading its title, the protest trampled until it’s a dying rattle, done in by vigorous riffing you can never remember. Behold, the punk-guitar hackmen flash their chops: Here comes the official punk-rock pick scrape, wait for it, there it is, right where verse charges headlong into chorus—grrrzzzzzz! Great! And there’s also lots of skippidy-skippidy drumming, to keep children who like running in circles smiling.
Bad Religion play the Vans Warped Tour on Randalls Island August 7.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 20, 2004