Since Bad Books released their debut album two years ago, the folks that make up the supergroup have been incredibly busy. Kevin Devine released his sixth album, Between the Concrete and Clouds and Manchester Orchestra released their third album, Simple Math. With Kevin Devine’s constant touring and Andy Hull releasing his own solo work under the name Right Away, Great Captain! it is incredible that they had any time at all to take on another project. From interviews fans have learned that the work that goes into Bad Books -though serious in every respect, is easier to finish than the work they do on their own. It’s a democratic effort, a labor of love with fun as a priority. Whatever they are doing works because Kevin Devine and Andy Hull’s brain child has produced a gem of an album-again.
II is 11 songs that blend both of their individual styles almost seamlessly. You get the twangy guitars Kevin Devine has accustomed his fans to, the soulful croons that come from Andy Hull, and the heaviness that comes from the rest of Manchester Orchestra. This album is everything you would want it to be. It is melodic, heavy in some spots, gentle in others, fun, honest, spazzy, and overall beautifully written. Kevin Devine’s matter-of-factly singing style along with Andy Hull’s melancholic tone compliment each other very well throughout the record. The way Devine and Hull layered their voices throughout the record truly showed how powerful the sum of their parts can be.
There is a definite dark cloud of loneliness shadowing the entirety of the record. There is just no way around that. “Pyotr” is a simple song. But heavy as it carries the weight of how Peter the Great placed the head of his wife’s lover in a jar and forced her to visit it daily -from the perspectives of the Tsar and the head themselves. The first single off of II, “Forest Whitaker” has the wonderfully sad line, “I bought a bird, it repeats what I say but ‘I’m lonely’ is all that he’s heard.” But there is also almost an air of acceptance to it. “The After Party” toys with hating loneliness, to needing it, to accepting that it may do some good. One of the songs that stood out the most to me on the record was “Friendly Advice.” It was something about the spacey percussion paired with the moody guitar riffs and tempo changes that left a mark on me through several listens. Plus the line, “I spent the entire last month thinking of ways to scalp my head, impress you with the way I speak” is pure gold.
II is a strong record and bested the efforts of their debut by a landslide. It is an album that loyal Bad Books’ fans can be proud of and newcomers can attach themselves to. It is a definite must have for fans of both Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra. It’s also a definite must have for those who enjoy music that tugs on the heart strings in the gentlest of ways.