RT: “No Reward”, “Forest Whitaker”, “Friendly Advice”, “No Sides”
RiYL: Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine, happiness, family, and coming home.
Bad Books is the supergroup of Kevin Devine (Brooklyn singer/songwriter) and Manchester Orchestra (moody alternative rock group). After their first and self-titled album, Bad Books showed that their sound was exactly what you would expect: the wonky mixture of Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra. Let’s be honest, the first album wasn’t great, given that it was a last minute creation and the writing was almost entirely done separately. This, in turn, made it somewhat of a split album with random harmonies from Kevin Devine and Andy Hull (MO’s lead singer) placed in songs to make it sound like they had written in together. II combats any ill feelings from the first album with songs that are well written, well produced, and glow with the warm feelings connected to each artist’s songwriting.
Not only are the songs written cohesively, but they are also catchy as hell. The single, “Forest Whitaker” starts with a bombastic back-beat which leads to a melody that will keep you whistling for weeks (your friends will probably hate you). “No Reward” leans toward Kevin Devine’s songwriting a bit more, with its distinct fuzzy, Beatles-influenced, guitar intro, which leads to a cymbal-crashing and shout-singing chorus.
The beginning of the album is very, very fun to listen to and all of the melodies are extremely easy on the ear. “It Never Stops” brings the innocent joy to a slow stop with its inconsistent, but more mature emotions. The verse is backed by a light synth and guitar lead which give a homey feel, the chorus goes into somewhat of a slow but loud country love song, and in the end it becomes almost triumphant with a full choir and organ like something from Arcade Fire’s playbook. Although this sounds like it would be completely confusing to listen to, all of the parts of the song have a very “down to earth” vibe about them which meshes with the rest of the album and helps bring the song together.
Adjacent to “It Never Stops” is its sonic opposite, “Pyotr”, which is sparse to a fault. The song is comprised of one somber, string plucking, guitar section which is aligned with a story sung by Andy Hull. This story could really use some clarification; at times it’s easy to connect to the characters, but at other points the story is jumbled and seems to be missing parts. Very perpendicular to “Pyotr” is “No Sides”, a poppy, indie-rock song that is matched with Kevin Devine’s pure and excited vocals, some fun hums, and happy guitar leads. They used this song really well to lift the album up from the depths, because after “Pyotr” the album tends to get a bit darker and quieter, again almost to a fault. “42” is, in my opinion, not much better than some cheesy campfire song, with its quick finger picking, uninspired vocals, and short duration. Coming in at around two and a half minutes, “42” just seems too insignificant to make it on to the album, but given the rest of the album it’s easy to overlook.
In the end, the album is really rewarding to listen to, especially for those who already are fans of Manchester Orchestra or Kevin Devine. Given lyrics like “I bought a bird that repeats what I say, but I’m lonely is all that he’s heard”, this supergroup is obviously not trying to steer far from their individual writing styles. Some of the more uninteresting songs are really easy to overlook just given the feeling of comfort that comes from listen to these artists’ songwriting. Listening to songs like “Lost Creek” or “It Never Stops” is just like being wrapped in a blanket in the house you grew up in. It’s very much a nostalgic and familiar album. Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra worked really well together to bring the album that we wanted the first time. I would say, without question, the album was worth the wait.