Bully – Losing

The world of rock ’n’ roll music is littered with problems and bad ideas. I mean, let’s face it: Rock is still, for the most part, a musical form that is by and for the young. And of course, the young aren’t exactly known for their wisdom. But who wants wisdom, anyway? Bad ideas, both musical and lyrical, coupled with the audacity and nascent sexuality of young adulthood, oftentimes reap problematic art. And problematic art is oftentimes powerful art.

Bully’s sophomore effort, Losing, is an edgy affair, rife with the problematic lyrics and musical risk-taking that, for once, breathes new life into a moldering genre. And it’s about damned time.

Yeah, Losing is more or less one of those “breakup” albums. And that’s usually a bad idea. And yeah, the band traffics in a kind of grunge rehash sound, and that’s usually a bad idea too.

But Losing is more revelation than rehash. A meditation on breaking up, fucking up and moving on, the album mines the sonic and lyrical terrain of grunge and smelts its raw materials into a stronger, yet still malleable alloy. So these guys are continuing the timeworn rock ’n’ roll tradition of appropriating folk and indigenous music (yes, grunge has become folk music.) and modernizing it with a (maybe not so) healthy infusion of sex ’n’ sass.

The touchpoints are obvious. Vocally, Bully auteur Alice Bognanno lurks in the liminal space between the sweetly skewed harmonics of The Pixies and the caterwaul of Courtney Love. And the band’s quiet/loud thing evokes Nirvana – who evoked the aforementioned Pixies, too. A tried and true blueprint to be certain, but Bully pulls it off.

Losing grapples with the sexual politics of the present day, a world often constructed/portrayed in binary terms that is, in truth, infinitely variegated. Such contradictions and ambiguities are never lost on Bognanno.

The album’s final track, “Hate and Control,” functions as apex and benediction. “I’m slipping into question/ Vulnerable and aware/ I’m overthinking words/ I’m panicked by your stare/ Will I lose my voice completely?/ How long has it been here?” Here, Bognanno offers an unflinching glimpse into the psyche of someone who is coming-to-be – someone who knows they might have fucked up, knows they may be fucked up, and knows that other fuckups loom in the future. This is a kind of maturity that is not beleaguered by the onus of “wisdom.”

While Bully’s debut, Feels Like, was so melodic and sticky sweet that it bordered on pop-punk, Losing offers a thornier, more nuanced form of passive aggressive intensity, if you will. Granted, the album is a Frankfurt style “cultural product” that was manufactured through a process of recombining stylistic adornments onto a similar chassis. But then again, who cares? Good rock ’n’ roll is all about the recombination of bad ideas to make something good with a retooled riff, a capricious turn of phrase or a velvet-gloved bit of sleight of hand. In this way, Bognanno & Co. deliver powerful, problematic art. The album is a heart shaped box full of barbed wire kisses, and who are we to ponder the ratios of risks versus benefits? Don’t ask questions, just have fun. And if you’re not careful, you just might learn something before it’s done.

[Sub Pop]