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PC Punkers Take Opposite Tacks

July 25, 1993|JONATHAN GOLD

FUGAZI "In on the Kill Taker" Dischord * * * BAD RELIGION "Recipe for Hate" Epitaph * * *

Fugazi and Bad Religion are the alpha and omega of underground rock 'n' roll in America, avatars of that "integrity" thing that MTV tries to sell, the stuff emulated by every "alternative" band from Pearl Jam to Stone Temple Pilots. Members of each band started their own labels when they were barely out of their teens; each band sneers at the megacorporate music biz; each band sells a couple hundred thousand records every time out, which is pretty much unprecedented for indie stuff that's neither rap nor Nirvana.

Fugazi is what pops into every rock kid's head when the initials PC are mentioned, and Bad Religion shared an anti-war single with ultra-left media critic Noam Chomsky. Each of these albums should spend months near the top of the college charts.

And yet, despite the similarity of the two bands' politics, business practices, fan base and roots in early-'80s hard-core punk, their music couldn't be more different.

As its popularity waxes toward the mega range, D.C.'s Fugazi seems to be slouching more willfully obscure with each album, its pleasing sort of dub bounciness becoming jagged and Beefheart-like, its straightforward vocal melodies twisting into wails and now to Rollins-esque barks.

On this, its fifth album, Fugazi works in more or less the same meta-pop ballpark as Sonic Youth, and brilliantly, though without that band's mysterious guitar tunings or impeccable sense of aural space, and definitely without Sonic Youth's reflexive irony: Fugazi hasn't a whimsical bone in its collective body, and the lyrics dance around the gloomiest topics in oblique college-poetry metaphor. (A cheerful, almost funky ode to proto-PC filmmaker John Cassavetes rocks hardest.) Producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey) reportedly had something to do with this record, and while he was also reportedly taken off the project, his angry, hermetic presence still rides nearly every groove.

L.A.'s Bad Religion has always played straighter punk rock than Fugazi, singer Greg Graffin's catchy folk melodies inflected by the orthodox class-of-'81 hard-core buzz, but on "Recipe for Hate" the band kind of leans toward the R.E.M. thing, and sounds commercial whether it means to or not.

Punk-polka beats melt into mid-decade jangle, arrangements actually sound like arrangements, songs clock in over two minutes. Extremely distinctive background vocals from Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder lend kind of an all-star session air to the whole thing, like a punk-rock Blind Faith. "Recipe for Hate" may not actually sound any more "alternative" than, say, Alice in Chains' "Dirt," but underground music is a state of mind. New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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