Bad Religion, Eric Clapton, Electric Six and The 88

It's no stretch of the definition to anoint Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin as godfathers of the American Punk movement. The trick has been to sustain their level of sonic energy and activist passion across three decades, maintaining their

Oct 20, 2010 at 2:06 pm

It’s no stretch of the definition to anoint Brett Gurewitz and Greg Graffin as godfathers of the American Punk movement. The Ramones certainly softened the ground for the genre, but they were singing about Carbona and Rock & Roll high schools and Punk Rock girls. By the time the boys in Bad Religion absorbed the musical tenets of Punk (with The Sex Pistols and Black Flag as their philosophical beacons), they were ready to populate their brutally fast and loud songs with their lyrical outrage over the cultural and political ills of the infinitely protestable ’80s. In doing so, Bad Religion established the predominant template for the majority of domestic Punk to follow: double-clutched rockabilly drumming, blistering guitars and gravel-throated anthems of political dissatisfaction and social alienation.

The trick for Bad Religion has been to sustain that level of sonic energy and activist passion across three decades, maintaining their integrity, relevance and every-other-year release schedule while growing, maturing and holding the interest of their aging fan base and attracting the youth that comprised their original audience.

Amazingly, Bad Religion has done exactly that since their 1981 debut, a string that continues with their 15th album, The Dissent of Man, perhaps the most diverse and broadly appealing album in the band’s catalog. After a succession of recent releases that toed the Bad Religion party line, Dissent

finds the band breaking out of their accepted role and incorporating more classic Rock and Pop elements to their songwriting (“Where the Fun Is,” “The Devil in Stitches,” “Pride and the Pallor,” the Punk/Country twang of “Cyanide,” the Pop melodicism of “I Won’t Say Anything”) while applying that diversity to their sturdy structural Punk core and sense of moral outrage (the anthemic “Someone to Believe,” the scathing social/political rant of “Ad Hominem,” “The Resist Stance” and “Meeting of the Minds”).

As a result, The Dissent of Man is the perfect adult Punk album for the 21st century: visceral, loud and confrontational as well as thoughtful, nuanced and universally appealing.

For pretty much the last three decades, the overarching theme of Eric Clapton’s career has been “What Does God Do for an Encore?” After establishing untouchable Hall of Fame credentials with The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith in the ’60s and his exploding-in-every-direction solo work in the ’70s, Clapton has been largely caught in the tension-filled gap between two potent masters, as he’s tried to serve the commercial interests of his corporate keepers while attempting to remain true to the Blues icons who inspired him in the first place.

It seems almost inconceivable that one of the architects of Guitar Rock in the ’60s could assemble Derek & the Dominos in 1970 and write “Layla,” one of the most achingly beautiful Classic Rock love songs of all time, and then follow it up with populist drivel like “Wonderful Tonight” a mere seven years later. But that has been Clapton’s dual musical identity for the bulk of the past 30 years.

Luckily, as Clapton has aged, he’s been more prone to look to his deepest roots for inspiration, as on 2001’s Reptile, his 2004 tributes to his personal hero Robert Johnson and his 2006 collaboration with J.J. Cale, The Road to Escondido.

Clapton, the second self-identified album in his catalog after his 1970 solo debut, is a revealing and engaging mix of Clapton’s aging tastes and longstanding musical loves. With only one co-write on the album, this is essentially another covers album, and it’s one where the guitarist spans a fascinating range of material, from his Les Paul-in-New-Orleans reading of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean” and his Louis Armstrong homage on “My Very Good Friend the Milkman” to his laconic spin on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair” and his jazzy romance with Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves.”

But the album is also populated with Clapton’s unique brand of lightly seared Blues classicism, from the chugging intensity of Lil’ Son Jackson’s “Travelin’ Alone” and the Gospel lope of Snooky Pryor’s “Judgment Day” to the blistering subtlety of Walter Jacobs’ “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” and the front porch acoustic vibe of Lane Hardin’s “Hard Times Blues.” For proof that Clapton still possesses the ability to jerk one out of the Blues park, there’s his original “Run Back to Your Side,” co-written with Doyle Bramhall II and sounding like an outtake from his first album.

All of the drowsy (but never sappy) standards on Clapton

might make this album less appealing to those of his fans that would be happy for him to shred like the Slowhand of old until his dying day, but the fact of his age (he turned 65 in March) and his post-WWII upbringing makes these song choices sentimental and natural. And to his credit, Clapton never forces the songs to adhere to his area of expertise, nor does he completely abandon his own identity to theirs, preferring to interpret them in a light that allows both to shine brightly. Clapton is a lovely scrapbook of Eric Clapton’s musical history and further proof of his impeccable versatility.

Fall is a glorious time of year. The air turns cool, the leaves begin to change, football season begins and Electric Six laser beams a brand new album straight into your cerebral cortex and your dancing assbone simultaneously. This year’s E6 offering, Zodiac, appropriately features a dozen wildly diverse yet amazingly cohesive tracks of humor-heavy Punk and groove-driven Funk that are in perfect step with the Detroit sextet’s previous catalog and yet somehow transcends it as well.

It’s not terribly difficult to draw a line between Electric Six’s genre blenderizing and the iconoclastic anarchy of The Tubes — in his lower registers, frontman Dick Valentine is a dead ringer for Fee Waybill — but at the same time, it’s clear that E6 is going their own special way. After all, this is a band that came to fruition in the Motor City and yet claims no particular affinity or affection for the city’s MC5/Stooges/Motown heritage that's influenced so many before them. E6 has been blazing a Rock trail since their debut a decade ago and show no signs of slowing down on Zodiac.

The band’s seventh disc leaps to life with the opening two-minute dance floor Pop volley of “After Hours,” an amazingly jaundiced view of the nightlife it seems to be celebrating, followed by the history-of-contemporary-Rock swing of “American Cheese,” which effortlessly knits together sinewy Funk, Neil Young-flecked Folk/Rock and David Bowie Glam Pop while namechecking a variety of dairy curd products, not to mention Ben Stiller, Phyllis Diller, corporate greed and crass mass marketing.

Throw in the Disco/Funk/Krautrock sociopolitical protest jam of “Clusterfuck!,” the Dance Wave Prog “Jam It In the Hole,” the dramatic Prog Pop of “I Am a Song!,” the Iggy Pop swing of “Tables and Chairs” and their infectiously thumping hard Pop cover of the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” and you’re halfway to understanding that Electric Six bows to no musical convention. They make the best kind of music: the kind that they want to hear.

Even if you’d swear you’ve never heard The 88, you’ve probably sampled the L.A. group without knowing it. The band’s first two albums — 2003’s Kind of Light, 2005’s Over and Over

— were licensed for Target, Sears and Microsoft commercials and TV shows like The OC, Weeds, Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother (where they actually guested as themselves, so maybe you’ve seen them, too). Most recently, they wrote and recorded the theme song for Community.

From their indie beginnings, The 88 has embraced a winning formula of crafting crystalline three-minute Pop songs out of the raw materials of British Invasion Pop like The Beatles and The Kinks, Garage Rock fury like The Standells and any number of influences from the big book of Motown.

On their last album, 2008’s Not Only...But Also, The 88 signed with Island and pushed out their major label debut, which also happened to be one of their best albums to date. Last year, The 88 and Island mutually parted ways, and the band subsequently set up its own label, Rocket Science Ventures, and digitally released a pair of albums (This Must Be Love

and No One Here) before getting tapped as Ray Davies opening act and backing band for his 2010 tour.

The culmination of all this activity is The 88’s eponymous sixth album and quite possibly the band’s Pop masterwork. Like Jellyfish, The 88 filter their quality influences through a unique musical viewpoint and come up with great songs that simultaneously sound incredibly familiar and blazingly original. Vocalist/guitarist Keith Slettedahl is blessed with an encyclopedic knowledge of hooks from the ’60s and ’70s, keyboardist Adam Merrin can similarly recreate walls of B3 atmosphere and the rhythm section of bassist Todd O’Keefe and drummer Anthony Zimmitti comes from the McCartney/Starr model of elegant simplicity, nuanced complexity and bedrock solidity.

The 88 swings, sweats, swaggers and swells with an approach that draws on Rock’s earliest memories while sounding as fresh as a Facebook update.