Bad Books – II
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Record Label: Triple Crown
Two years ago when a Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra hybrid-supergroup was announced, fans were justifiably stoked that two of AbsolutePunk.net’s favorite artists were joining forces as Bad Books and planning on releasing a full-length. On paper, this sounded like it was going to be the bomb dot com. On record, however, Bad Books self-titled debut was just missing something. It wasn’t bad per se - in fact, it was a very fine record. It just sounded like everything we've heard before. For better or worse, we’ve just come to expect more from the talented musicians, as the album felt a bit directionless. Regardless, the group reconvened to record and release II, under decidedly less pressure than before. And even though the title’s lacking creativity, the actual music found on it is not, as the album’s eleven tracks sound more like a cohesive project rather than a collection of Manchester Orchestra songs that feature guest vocals from Kevin Devine (and vice versa).
Album opener “The After Party” sets the tone with a persistent riff that slowly worms its way into your brain as Devine softly harmonizes behind Andy Hull’s brash vocals. The track is schizophrenic in both music and words - abrasive guitar chords conflict with intricate, needle-ly riffs, while Hull at one point states that “it’s good to be alone” before turning on himself and proclaiming “I hate being alone!” It’s a showcase of both artists learning how to play off their strengths instead of haphazardly copying and pasting. “No Rewards” continues this as the massive track has the soul of Between The Concrete and Clouds (Devine’s last full length) aided by Manchester Orchestra’s ability to make everything loud.
First single “Forest Whitaker” has decidedly different style than the rest of the songs on II; as its pop undertone, electronic drum and synth shuffle, and infectious whistling stand out from the other ten tracks. It’s isn’t a bad deviation however, as II flow never falters. The upbeat “It Never Stops” unleashes one of the album’s best choruses, while the fuzzy reverb of “No Sides” will bring back memories of your garage band days.
While Devine is behind most of upbeat tracks on II (the folky “Petite Mort” is a delicious slice of Americana), Hull is busy bringing the tempo back to the middle. The barely-there “42” is where Hull shines as he lets his impassioned vocals dominate the track, while “Pyotr” is an unsettling acoustic number that features the ManOrch maestro telling the tale of a messy love triangle (it involves heads in jars – you know the usual stuff).
But when Devine, Hull, and the rest of the members find the perfect balance between the two styles, we get the best songwriting II has to offer. “Lost Creek” floats along on nothing but a simple guitar riff and some percussion flourishes while Hull and Devine trade stories back and forth. Devine’s especially introspective on II’s sleepy closer “Ambivalent Peaks,” as he bares some of his most personal lyrics to date.
Bad Books' II is the band finally discovering its sweet spot, as the album’s eleven tracks are firing on all cylinders. Andy Hull and Kevin Devine are two of the “scene’s” best songwriters, and here they find new ways to push each other as musicians. II has more purpose and interesting moments than what its predecessor had - II is the Empire Strikes Back to the self-titled's A New Hope. Both are worthy of praise, but, ultimately, the sequel is far more satisfying.
This is definitely an improvement from the debut but I still find it less exciting than the members other projects. I feel 80% is a very fair score because it is a good album but not yet the best these artists can achieve. Great review and this will hold me over until the next ManOrch or whatever they decide to call themselves is released hopefully next year because Hull's a machine!
Kevin Devine: "You know...I really want to start a Manchester Orchestra cover band."
Andy Hull: "That's a cool idea, man."
KD: "Hey, Andy...would you like to join my Manchester Orchestra cover band?!"
Saw them play in Portland last Sunday...the 11th Bad Books show. Seeing the Manchester dudes in this capacity was really special. They played a spoof version of "I Can Feel A Hot One" throughout the show with Kevin making up words...and they were hilarious. Funny sound effects, hilarious banter and a pure rock and roll show...these new songs translate REALLY WELL to the live setting and this is just one of the greatest side projects of all time. Straight up.