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Bad Religion, That Damn Show Headliners, Have Been Around Longer Than You Think

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Into the Unknown and Breakup

Into the Unknown, Bad Religion's spacey 1983 detour into prog rock, is a bit of a curiosity now -- the band doesn't much like it, it's not available on CD, and when one of its songs is played live, it is a fandom event. But we have the benefit of hindsight -- and the knowledge they made an abrupt return to their punk roots one album later -- in making those judgments.

At the time, it looked like they'd changed permanently. And the mainstream press -- if not their punk fanbase -- actually kind of liked it. In a 1984 review, the Village Voice's Chuck Eddy had this to say:

Let's face it -- to us white males who came of age in the suburban Midwest in the mid- to late '70s, and to I bet a lot of females and urbaners and ruralers and Easterners and Southerners as well, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Dust in the Wind" and that ELP song the radio used to play a lot are truer folk music than Loretta Lynn or the Wild Tchoupitoulas will ever be. In as much as the people I grew up with are of the same species and therefore as in need of musical ritual as your average Creole or Bantu, "Stairway To Heaven" was (for a while, anyway) our "Caimanera," our "Iko Iko," our "Cotton-Eyed Joe."

There had to be some intangible which attracted all of those unsuspecting hordes. Bad Religion -- an L.A. punk band whose 1982 debut How Could Hell Be Any Worse was rightfully lumped with Christian Death, 45 Grave, et al. into the ephemeral "horror rock" sub-subgenre -- has found that intangible.

... Most of Into The Unknown's songs are by singer/pianist/organist/synthesist Greg Graffin, whose tunes break down pretty easily into your life's-terrible-if-you're-young-but-not-terrible-enough-to-do-that numbers and your grown-ups-really-fucked-up-the-ecology numbers. Songs of the former ilk open and close the record; "It's Only Over When... " and "...You Give Up" are as inspirational in their own ways as - no shit - great Al Green or Mighty Clouds or Swan Silvertones.

When you haven't a friend in the world, and you turn to light and all you get is darkness, and you're lost in space, and your life's in the garbage can, it's only over when you give up. The Lord will make a way, somehow. No, Graffin doesn't exactly say that, but the hope he displays in these songs (and in his ballad, "Million Days") suggests that his sort of humanism isn't that bad a religion after all. If I knew a kid who was considering suicide, I'd play him these songs, and he'd decide to start a band instead. That's what rock'n'roll's for, right?

Alas, the band didn't like it as much as Chuck Eddy and Robert Christgau did. The result was a brief breakup and a return to the sound that would make them famous with an EP self-awarely titled Back to the Known.

Next: After a triumphant punk return, Bad Religion joins a major label.

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Dan Moore