I've been listening to Bad Religion a lot lately. I run hot and cold with this band, and here's why. When I like them, it's because they're fast and tight and the vocal harmonies soar like a squadron of leather-jacketed guardian angels. When I don't like them, it's because I get tired of Greg Graffin's humorless preaching. NOFX is pretty didactic, too, but At least Fat Mike is a smartass. A lot of the time, Greg Graffin's lyrics come across like a surgeon-general's warning--dire, informative, and kind of overbearing.
In any case, I think Against the Grain is their best record, and it's the one I've been listening to the most. Bad Religion are usually credited with extending L.A. punk rock long past its expiration date, and Against the Grain is a prime example of why. I bought it my junior year in high school ('94-'95), and I credit it for steering me away from bands like Bush. It's arguably the pinnacle of their career (bummer, since it came out sixteen years ago), not only because it features most of the original lineup (admittedly this is a dumb reason to like a record), but because the songs are universally good. Graffin's harmonies sound like a punk rock barber shop quartet. Mr. Bret's solos stick in your head like metastisized brain tumors.* The songs attack with the speed and precision of a team of ninja. It's intelligent, introspective and anthemic, without resorting to the chumpy bro-hymns of Pennywise.**
Following this album, the band signed with Atlantic. I listened to the first two of these albums while in college, and I didn't care for them at all. I missed out on the next two completely, and even when they went back to Epitaph, I've only had a casual interest in their most recent offerings. Though it's remarkable that they continue to churn out albums, I think there's little point in checking them out beyond this one. Okay--Generator is worth a listen, too, but for my money, I remain Against the Grain.
*and I challenge everyone to find a more unpleasant simile.
**Imagine a bunch of Orange County frat guys yelling OHHHHHHH/OHHHH OHHHH OHHHHHHHHHH/OHHHHHHH OHHHH OHH OHH OHHHHHHHHHH along with this guy. That's a chumpy bro-hymn.+
+For the record, I love Pennywise.