Formed in 1979, the members of notorious punk band, Bad Religion, have earned themselves a unique and welcome reputation for using sophisticated lyrics, with intellectual vocabulary and topics relating to social and religious commentary elevating the band above the typical image of a punk group. A signature trait of the band is their use of three voice harmonies, jokingly referred to as the ‘oozin aahs’.
It is not clear whether the conception of Christmas Songs was a band decision or a corporate one. Although the group is known to have no qualms in playing live Christmas shows, they had previously insistently refused to record a Christmas album, which makes the release all the more peculiar. But lo and behold, here it is and, typical Bad Religion style, the music is quick and simple, although unfortunately very repetitive in sound.
The sleeve art captures the playful spirit of the album perfectly and features Gerald Waller’s iconic post-WWII photo, ‘New Shoes’, showing an Austrian orphan clasping a new pair of shoes with an innocent delight.
The album kicks off with a minute-long a capella performance of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, followed by a distorted pick sweep that leads us to what the band does best. Although most ears are more familiar with the classic Louis Armstrong version, ‘White Christmas’ here starts off sounding identical to the Ramones’ hit ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’. As a classic Christmas anthem, it’s difficult not to get swept away by it, and Bad Religion has included a catchy chord progression that keeps it fun. It wouldn’t be Christmas without ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and the band have included a version of it, though repetitive drum rolls grate on the ears pretty quickly.
Although the idea of combining punk rock and Christmas folk songs is almost comical, Bad Religion manage to very much stay in their comfort zone without killing the songs’ inherent Christmas spirit. But the album is not without fault; the vocals are monotonously droning and, apart from the occasional guitar solo, the songs pretty much sound the same.
But being the purveyors of punk that they are, Bad Religion take a swipe at organised religion, with 20% of the profits from the album being donated to SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.