Thursday, January 11, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1703: Bully

Many a long day has kept me from you my dear readers, but tonight I return to regale you with tales of musical discovery!

Disc 1703 is…Lucky for You

Artist: Bully

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover? Our hero poses with her turtleneck pulled up over half her face. Likely causes for this decision include a) she is bashful b) she is cold or c) she is robbing a bank. Maybe d) has seen an ex-lover at the airport and wants to not be noticed.

How I Came To Know It: The boring way. I read a review, and after subsequently listening to the album, I liked what I heard and here we are.

How It Stacks Up: Bully has four albums but this is currently my only one, and so can’t stack up.

Rating: 3 stars

Having “crunch” in your rock and roll is something that needs believability to function. It isn’t enough that you play your notes loud enough, nor that you turn up the reverb. It has to feel authentic or it just feels loud. Which brings us to “Bully” a post-grunge concoction that very much wants to possess crunch. Does it? The answer is…sometimes, but mostly when she’s toning it down.

Bully is the performance name of a woman named Alicia Bognanno who, apart from some guest musicians here and there, makes her own music, playing guitar, bass and performing lead vocals. It’s her vision and that vision is fully realized on her fourth record, “Lucky for You”. The music is nineties inspired rock, heavy on the grunge and don’t spare the production.

It is this lush nineties sound, which ranges from the early nineties fuzz of Nirvana to the early oughts loudness of Evanescence. If you like your sound production clean and full of space for individual instruments to shine, this is not for you. After the first couple of listens I wasn’t sure it was for me for this reason. There is a lot of loud, and not a lot of true ‘crunch’ (that word again) behind it.

The record was saved by my schedule, a busy bunch of commuting and waiting that resulted in three car listens and two more on headphones. So trapped, I was given the chance to appreciate “Lucky for You” on its own terms and lo and behold, it began to win me over.

It was better after I realized she had more in common with the Muffs than Nirvana. This stuff is power pop, with guitar and reverb. The bones of the songs are solid once you hear them this way, and as the melody began to rise above the mud I started to like a number of the songs.

Bognanno’s vocals aren’t of the powerhouse variety, but she’s a pop singer. If you want growl or anxious Curt Cobain wailing, you’ve come to the wrong place. And while the strained effort of the guitar in songs like “A Wonderful Life” are trying a little too hard to be cool, the tune itself is passable. When the blood and thunder eased off and Bognanno lets her voice get a bit sweet, I found myself genuinely having a good time.

The album opens with the frenetic “All I Do” which is good, and very much wants to be a radio hit, but it felt a bit too much like it was produced by the Paul Giamatti character in “Rock of Ages”. I should note at this point that while “Rock of Ages” is an atrocious film, I have a soft spot for just how silly it is. Also, Malin Akerman. But I digress…

Back to the record, that hits its stride a bit late in the listen, with Track 4’s “Hard to Love”. While a lot of this stuff is trying too hard, “Hard to Love” is exactly what Bully does best. A bit of whimsy and jump on the verses, and a good (but not overwrought) thump in the chorus. Crunch? Here, yes, principally because it is employed with restraint.

Lose You” is similar, which has one of Bognanno’s best vocal performances, despite production that puts the slightest (but still too much) squawk box effect on the vocals. The song is just too solid for that to spoil it. Also great, is “Ms. America”, the poppiest song on the record, and also the best.

Over the course of my multiple listens, “Lucky For You” went from an album I thought would be my first 2023 fail, to a solid rock and roll record with good songwriting that is at its best when employing a “less is more” approach to the production.

Best tracks: Hard to Love, Lose You, Ms. America

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