Holiday Album Buyers’ Guide, Part 3: Christmas Songs (Bad Religion)

 

[‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and all throughout the Southland, people tuned their car radios to KOST 103.5 FM, and let the Christmas tunes fly. Yes sir, it’s the time of year to hate holiday songs! You’re getting sick of hearing another rendition of “Sleigh Ride” or “Jingle Bell Rock,” and you grate from the insufferable cheer of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” being played for the hundredth time, from every single store and station. Don’t fear, this three-part buyers’ guide is here to save you and your holiday. Of the many holiday albums that go on sale every December, the three I present span different genres, for any holiday mood or occasion.]

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Christmas Songs
Bad Religion
Epitaph Records, 2013

And now, one of the most idiosyncratic of my selections, and my personal favorite! (Unsurprising.) Bad Religion never compromised their furious spirit or scathing sound over their thirty year career, not even for a collection of punked-out covers of classic Christmas tunes and hymns. Not only are these tracks immensely rollicking and catchy, the album offers so many odd couplings that make it a captivating listen, hooking you even after January 1. I can’t stop grinning as I listen, revelling in the irony that a band so critical of organized religion manages to pull off explicitly Christian songs such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” with thrashing rhythms and crashing riffs that can start moshpits in the pews. It’s the perceived contradictions of hearing Gospel songs done in a genre both celebrated and demonized for its rebelliousness and its devilishly frenzied rhythms. Even Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” gets a boost with a Ramones-like riff to shake off your food coma sedation.

But they never stray too far off character, rounding this EP off with a remix of their classic track “American Jesus,” a tirade on the hypocrisy of American cultural Christianity. The lyrics, which detail the arrogance and megalomania of the Religious Right, gain even more relevance during the holidays. American Christians always have an axe to grind every Christmas, whether it’s about Starbucks cups or the abbreviation of Christmas to X-Mas. Every year, the holidays mark yet another time for the American religious right to complain about declining cultural clout, while other Christians around the world cannot openly celebrate without fear of persecution and death.

Yet were it not for the eight other tracks, Greg Graffin and company wouldn’t be any less glum or curmudgeonly than the Christian right. Selecting seven joyful Christian classics for their album shows Greg Graffin and company are not afraid to go against the grain of not only what’s expected of them as a punk rock band, but also against the stubborn selfishness of conservative Christianity. Together they form a two-pronged attack against the dour dominionism of American Christendom–through direct dissent and the joyous refrains of these traditional Christian songs, both amplified by the rebellious energy and electricity of punk rock. It’s this combination of jubilation and indignation that ironically puts Bad Religion’s Christmas Songs more in tune to the “Christmas spirit” than any other Christmas or contemporary Christian album on the market this season.

Bad Religion’s odd coupling of punk rock and sacred song bring to mind the confusing contradictions that come with Christmas. Cur Deus homo? How can these hymns rock so hard? Why do American Christians always complain about instead of celebrate Christmas? Bad Religion is not afraid to ask the depressing but important questions of the holidays, and their humble holiday EP shines with a spirit bright and deep enough to make believers of anyone who listens.

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