With a name like Bad Religion and an outspoken naturalist at the helm, the classic California punk band surprised many with the recent release of “Christmas Songs,” an album primarily made up of straight-forward Christmas carols covered punk rock style. Longtime fans, however, had been listening to some of these songs for years on KROQ-FM Christmas show bootlegs, so it was only a matter of time before they released something proper via their own label, Epitaph Records.
Always questioning religion and its many traditions, it would have been easy for the cross-busting quintet to slam hokey holiday fare like “Little Drummer Boy” and “Angels We Have Heard on High,” but instead these renditions are as reverent to the material musically as they are performed sardonically, if that makes any sense – no lyrics are changed, and the sarcasm is left for the conversation these recordings generate, not in the tunes themselves. 20 percent of the proceeds from the album will go to SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), so while there is an ulterior motive here, it’s certainly a clever and noble one.
With these same songs being played incessantly since November, it’s easy to dismiss a tracklist that includes “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This?” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” but these lively versions will perk up even the surliest Grinch. Bad Religion’s usual “oozin’ aahs” actually fit these chorus carols perfectly, and singer Greg Graffin really shines amongst the haunting guitar resonance on “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”
“Christmas Songs’” nine tracks are topped off with the crisp Andy Wallace mix of their 1993 hit “American Jesus,” just to remind folks where they stand officially on all this holy business. The boys haven’t gone soft in their old age – their skepticism has just become a little more subtle.
Bad Religion ‘Christmas Songs’ Rating: W W W W V