This week, everyone's favorite non-believing punk band, Bad Religion, previewed music from its latest record, Christmas Songs. That's right, ladies and gents: the band called Bad Religion, whose logo is a cross with a red line though it, has made an album of covers of songs that are traditionally and commonly associated with Jesus Christ's "birthday." Kudos should go to the punk legends for trying to think outside the box with this one, but anyone with even the vaguest idea of who this band is can recognize that this is going to be, at the very least, a really fucking strange record.
The project makes a little more sense when you find out that 20 percent of the proceeds from sales of Christmas Songs will go to SNAP: the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. But then you look at the track listing and confusion returns:
1. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
2. O Come All Ye Faithful
3. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
4. White Christmas
5. Little Drummer Boy
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
7. What Child is This?
8. Angels We Have Heard On High
9. American Jesus (Andy Wallace Mix)
So, Bad Religion isn't just covering Christmas songs -- six out of the nine tracks here are actual hymns.
Brett Gurewitz, the band's guitarist, has tried to explain the motivation behind recording such unexpected songs with the following statement: "What this album is indirectly stating is that this music, and thus the world, can be powerfully and beautifully stripped of God and religion. These are just really good songs and a historically non-religious band like Bad Religion can perform them with as much power and feeling as anyone."
Well, no, actually, that's not really true. Because when you take belief and faith out of religious music, it ceases to have the same power and feeling. That's why hymns are so goddamn boring for non-believers to listen to. If you don't believe in God, these songs mean almost nothing. Putting some power chords in there doesn't always amount to true power or feeling.
What's worse, from a fan perspective, is the fact that lyrics are usually such an important part of this band's music. Bad Religion fans want to be stimulated, challenged, and moved. Bad Religion fans are frequently atheists who believe that the Bible is a made-up book of propaganda and thought control. Why on earth would those fans want to listen to songs that have been used to spread and popularize religious doctrine for centuries? Just because you put guitars on a hymn and get a bunch of non-religious people to play them doesn't make the content and history of that music any different.
For some fans, there may be an initial, somewhat delicious novelty factor in atheists playing such hallowed Christian music. At Christmas, no less. But when it comes to the business of actually sitting down and listening to Bad Religion doing this, the concept gets tired quickly. Aside from anything else, try and picture someone sitting at home, picking which Bad Religion record to listen to that evening. Is it going to be Suffer, The Gray Race, or, uh, Christmas Songs?
So, while we appreciate that money is being raised for a worthwhile cause, and while we understand what Bad Religion was trying to do, this doesn't seem like project that could ever really make sense. Most punks don't want to listen to God music, even when Bad Religion is playing it. And hymns aren't stripped of their religious content just because Bad Religion is playing them. Perhaps an EP would've served the concept better than a full-length? Or perhaps Bad Religion should've just written an album dedicated to exposing Christmas fallacies, debunking mythology, and explaining about how Christmas was invented to essentially outshine a Pagan holiday. That would've been far more interesting to listen to.