Bad Religion
tight, loud pop

Stranger Than Fiction (Atlantic Records)

Bad Religion

By Mark Clark

Bad Religion was alternative before alternative was cool.

Other bands have been chasing this group's power-pop sound for the better part of a decade. Stranger Than Fiction, Bad Religion's first release for its new label, Atlantic, shows why.

The band lays urgent vocal melodies over thick slabs of bass, guitar and drums. The arrangements are so tight, it often sounds like all the instruments have somehow been fused. If you've never heard the group, imagine an early Rush album played at 78 speed — only without Geddy Lee's Mickey Mouse vocals -— and you'll be in the ballpark.

There isn't a weak cut among the 15 tracks included on Stranger Than Fiction. But there are a few especially strong pieces, which could provide the band with the breakthrough single it needs to gain wider recognition (much the way "Backwater" finally made a name for the long-suffering Meat Puppets). The best candidate is probably "Infected," a twisted love song with plenty of howling guitar and a clever chorus: "You and me have a disease ... I'm afflicted, you're addicted."

If popular recognition continues to elude Bad Religion, the band's longtime fans, at least, can enjoy this sterling effort.