Four chords in 4/4 time, buzz-saw guitars, double-time drum action, poli-sci brainiac lyrics. Punk rock for Punk Planet subscribers. This can get old, and it has. But even as we've watched our eggheaded California dreamers inch closer to sheer pop doofery (onward from 1993's major-label Recipe for Hate), we are rewarded for our patience with "The Handshake," "A Walk" and "American Jesus." Splendid tunes, all.
Now, with The Process of Belief, we receive perhaps the most consistent string of rewards the band has doled out in eons. Welcoming prodigal guitarist/songwriter/Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz back to the fold after a lengthy absence, the band delivers almost no surprises to the wizened Bad Religion enthusiast; instead, it treads on warm, familiar sonic territory. Aural comfort food. A heapin' bowl of mashed potatoes.
Three pure punk wind sprints ("Supersonic," "Prove It" and "Can't Stop It") lead off Belief, each employing the exact same heave-ho drumbeat, each wrapping up in under two minutes. "Broken" slows it down and throws on acoustic guitars. "Bored & Extremely Dangerous" finishes the album with a weird, Pink Floydian mid-song interlude (seriously). "Sorrow" begins with a syncopated, faux-reggae Police-style beat before dissipating into the same ol' same ol'.
Lyrically, having been penned a bit too early for post-September 11 musing from these punk politicos, Belief is mostly self-help/self-starter fare: "Why can't you see / There ain't no destiny." Stick to Noam Chomsky for subversive political thought, but ain't no way Noam could unload anything as hip as "Kyoto Now," Belief's highlight, making excellent use of the Formula, complete with melodic backing vocals. Sure, there's something prosaic, formulaic and moderately goofy about these boys (Bad Religion now has three guitar players -- can Kid B be far behind?), but every movement needs wise (if stubbornly old-fashioned) grandfathers. Even you goddamn punks.