Bad Books is back with their second album, II. This album is more of everything you liked from their self-titled debut but kicked up a notch. They have improved their formula and the result is a more mature polished product.
This band is now more than just the sum of its parts, Kevin Devine + Manchester Orchestra. It is its own entity now. All of the songs sound more confident and cohesive. The interplay between Hull and Devine as principal songwriters and lyricists in Bad Books is blurred even further here than on the debut, and that is a very good thing.
The album kicks off with the haunting intro track “The After Party”. It is a sparse, open track that spotlights the delicate vocals of the dual frontmen. They talk about the dilemma of loneliness here: “It’s so good to be alone” into “I hate to be alone” Which is it?
“No Reward” has great melodies. Full band participation gives great melody, especially in the choruses with the ooohs and aaahs.
“Forest Whitaker” is awesome. It has so many quotable lines. I love the whistling /kazoo and synth parts in the pre-verse. It is the strongest song on the album and one of the best songs of the year. According to the songwriters this song is supposed to be about two waring neighbors. It spawns some entertaining lines like; “You started a job that you hate when you’re sober and hate even more when you’re not.” and “I bought a bird that repeats what I say but ‘I’m lonely’ is all that he’s heard”. So good.
On “It Never Stops” it starts with some simple guitar riffs and then the full band gets going and the song is pure magic. I love the mix of simple riff in the verses with those flourishes and the strong full band kick in the choruses. Well done. I love the interplay between Hull and Devine. The choruses are great.
“Pyotr” is made up of lonely chords, which matches the lyrical content. This song tells a tragic tale from the perspective of the other man, “…I’ve never loved nobody other than you and in silence I can feel as you quiver, keep quiet or you know what he’ll do.”
The verses of “Friendly Advice” remind me of 90s altrock specifically the Smashing Pumpkins. Lyrically the song sounds like its talking about 2 people more emotionally stunted and caught in a state of arrested development. “You and me, forever still, mourning disease. We never grow.” The song also tends to share the sage advice to never take things too heart too much, “Cause when you’re old, you’ll let it go, let it go, let it go. Don’t let the skin graft on your soul.”
“No Sides” is a solid tune. I liked the swirling guitar tones. “Petite Mort” is a euphemism for orgasm and literally translates to ‘Little Death’ It is commonly linked with euphoria. It is very laid back, it almost feels a little bit like a country tune. The ooohs in it are very catchy as well.
I think the song “42” stops just when it really starts getting good. The song comes to a crescendo and the piano surges in with the line, “You and your dad what a tragic mishap. When a man loves a drink more than blood.” The song is as powerful as the music that accompanies it. The song seems to be about two lovers feeling the effect of alcohol on their lives.
Lost Creek is light and beautiful tune and provides one of the album’s best moments. The humming outro is beautiful, Andy Hull can hum anything and make it sound amazing. So good! This song is about getting back to a place of found memories, “My dad and Russell playing with my cousin and me. Do you know how to get back to Lost Creek? To that house in the forest where laughter came menacingly.”
“Ambivalent Peaks” It is the the perfect ending to the new album and is led by Kevin Devine. The addition of vocals by Andy Hull makes the song even stronger. The song brings the album to a slow but powerful end.It is a subtle song about love, “…a strange sort of peace in loss. I’m made certain, unveiled clarity it’s you I will marry, my lover, my family. You always will be. But every word, seemed to small to speak, so we watched the sky reach ambivalent peaks. We made our projections, present and free.”
This album is delicate and beautiful but also an upbeat and fun listen. I thoroughly enjoy and recommend it. I feel like this album is a lot better than its predecessor. It also feels like more of a complete album as well.