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Bad Religion

There's no way around it. A band of 40-something punk purists that is still raging red-faced as it targets lack of idealism begs the question of relevance. And with The Process of Belief, which marks Bad Religion's return to Epitaph as well as the 20th anniversary of its seminal debut, How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, it remains the question at hand. In a woeful world of Sum 41s and Blink-182s, it's encouraging that the subjects of relevance and punk rock are still even mentioned in the same breath. The only question that'll be asked of the current crop of bubblegum punks in 20 years is how they enjoy sitting in the discount bin of their local music store.

Which is not to say Bad Religion couldn't benefit from their offspring's liberal use of humor. Tempering the soap-box approach with a wink and a smile would go a long way toward making the socially conscious message of songs like "Kyoto Now!" a little easier to digest. Lyrically in love with all things literal, Bad Religion never met a metaphor it didn't despise. No one ever said punk rock was about subtlety, but singing about diversity takes on an ironic twist in the context of such unbelievably conservative music. "Supersonic," "Can't Stop It," and "Evangeline" all offer the catchy combo of airtight power chords, machine-gun snare rolls, and Beach Boy harmonies that the band's been churning out for two decades. In the tradition of the Ramones and AC/DC, these guys are hardcore environmentalists, at least in terms of recycling, with nothing more than a few feeble attempts at experimentation. But the pseudofolk of "Broken," the quasireggae intro to "Sorrow," and the midtempo break in "Epiphany" all give more-than-ample reason for the band to get back in the stable and remain a one-trick punk-rock pony. The Process of Belief ends with the track "Bored and Extremely Dangerous." If the members of Bad Religion are referring to the listener, they got it half right.