Greg Graffin’s Changes and Millport
Greg Graffin of Bad Religion is one of the most interesting people in all of punk. With a PhD in zoology, Graffin has taught courses at UCLA and Cornell while touring around the world with one of the most iconic ‘90s punk bands. He has written books about his atheism and even has produced a pilot for a television show based on his life. What made Graffin famous, though, is his music. Bad Religion, of Southern California, were immortalized in the punk community for writing powerful, politically charged punk music. With the help of Graffin’s deep voice and lyrics that struck a chord with their audience, Bad Religion reached up to number 18 on the Billboard charts with their albums. They are still touring around the country after being a band for 38 years.
Graffin’s music has not been limited to the famous punk band. He has gone on to make a set of solo albums that vary differently from his punk roots. Millport, Graffin’s third and newest solo record, follows the folk-country formula of his previous solo records. These albums are so different from Bad Religion that they are a shock to fans who hear them for the first time. It is hard to believe that the same person who sings lyrics like, “in the end the good will go to heaven up above / the bad will perish in the depths of hell / how can hell be any worse when life alone is such a curse? / fuck Armageddon, this is hell,” can be the same person who sings about Abraham Lincoln’s funeral or the sawmill down the road.
Millport has some powerful lyrics at times, but, in reality, it is a country album that doesn’t differentiate itself strongly from the stereotypes that follow radio country. Repetitive choruses, like the one in “Too Many Virtues,” bring this album’s overall quality down. Songs like “Backroads of My Mind” and “Shotgun” follow the cliched storylines of riding the roads of the country. The strongest lyrics in this album lie within the songs that talk of history such as “Lincoln’s Funeral Train,” a song that speaks the tale of post-Lincoln assassination America. It is interesting that Lincoln is spoken of so positively in this song, as Graffin is so anti-political in the Bad Religion project. The song is highlighting the past of the Republican Party, while mourning the current state of the country’s politics.
There are a lot of nice, country instrumentals on the album, but their overall melodies are slowly passed and lack the energy that is needed to bring a country song alive — that is, with the exception of “Sawmill,” which is the highlight of the album. The violins and banjo on this song are fast-paced enough to draw anyone’s attention and it is hard not to fall in love with this song’s atmosphere. The song speaks of a California logging community making its business off of their sawmill and the bluegrass influences really highlight the best parts of the album.
Graffin’s newest release tends to attempt to imitate a folk album in the context of Springsteen’s Nebraska, but it all feels lost in translation. This specifically is noticeable in the first half of the album. When the album hits its second half, the instrumentals become much more enjoyable as Graffin uses banjos and violins tho complement his voice. If Graffin is calling a spade a spade, Bad Religion fans are going to dislike Millport. It lacks the anti-political and anti-religious commentary that punk fans want, while completely changing genres. Graffin has always craved this need for change though. When Bad Religion released now infamous synth-rock album Into The Unknown back in 1983, it was bashed by fans for being such a drastic change. If critics were so quick to bash Into The Unknown, they are going to be confused when venturing into Graffin’s solo career. The new record has some enjoyable portions, though, and anyone who likes folk or country would probably not have an issue with Millport.