Throughout most bands' careers, you expect to hear some sort of change as the band members mature, their interests change, they learn to play their instruments, line up changes or any number of other reasons. Results vary, from outstanding success to unmitigated failure.
For some bands however, they drop straight into a groove and stick with it. Bands like AC/DC, Motorhead, Manowar and Deicide are not far removed from their original sound, even two or three decades into their careers. Bad Religion is another which could be added to that list.
One of the inadvertent architects of the current pop punk sound which emanates from Southern California, Bad Religion found their musical feet early in their careers, and have done very nicely with it ever since. Unlike many of the pretenders to the SoCal punk throne however, Bad Religion are better live than in the studio. 'Tested' is testament to this fact.
"Live" energy is often difficult to transfer to an album, but Bad Religion manages it here. Lots of crowd noise does not equate to live energy, and Bad Religion didn't even bother to record crowd noise. Any crowd noise you hear on the album comes through the bands' mikes. The liner notes go into depth about how the album was recorded. To summarise it all, Bad Religion recorded everything live, cheaply but effectively, and then reassembled it into what equates to a live "Best Of..." album.
The results show a lot of thought and preparation was put into recording. The guitars have a rougher edge than in the studio, and vocalist Greg Graffin's vocals are raspier. The melodies in the vocals, backing vox and guitar lines and counter-lines are near perfect, and there are even nuances apparent which are missing from the studio albums.
There are mistakes and adlibs all over the place, one of the best being when Greg Graffin starts the crowd in Dortmund on the wrong key for the opening verse of "Generator". Elsewhere, the odd guitar solo is slightly off key, and the backing vocals are sometimes a little out of tune or drowned out. For fans of live albums, it's a pure delight to hear.
As for highlights, well, this is Bad Religion. There aren't any. That's to say, the entire album is incredibly consistent, and is an accurate record of the band's back catalogue up until 1996. Nothing sounds out of place, and everything sounds like it could be from any of the band's album. While this lack of musical development may annoy the hell out of self-important, pseudo-intellectual critics, it's exactly what the band want to play, and what their fans want to hear. It may be predictable, it may have been done before, but so what? 'Tested' ROCKS!