There’s always time for a little 90s revival. Two years ago, Bully released their debut album “Feels Like”, a fierce indie-rock record that channelled some female-led acts from the 90s like Hole or Liz Phair. They were hardly the only band trying to make the 90s happen again – in point of fact, we’ve seen pretty much every 90s music wave making a comeback in some way or other. In the case of 90s indie rock, one may argue that it never really went away. It’s perhaps too broad of a genre to speak about it in such generalising terms, although that’s an entirely different conversation which would take us ages to address. What’s important here is that, since the 90s, alternative rock has been the go-to music genre for expressing teenage angst. Not that alternative rock and teenage angst are exclusively products from the 90s, but that was the era when these two things merged into a single cultural product that conquered mainstream consciousness. With the rise of grunge in the early 90s, some of the elements that once constituted alternative rock began entering the mainstream. By bastardising some of the genre’s beliefs, alternative rock began to be commercially viable. Bully belong to a lineage of angsty rock bands that seem to be equally influenced by the most successful 90s rock bands – Nirvana, Hole – and by other acts which remained on the fringes, like Sleater-Kinney and the whole Olympia scene.
Bully‘s sophomore album “Losing” lacks the significant impact that a straightforward rock album is supposed to make
Just as Bully’s debut album, “Losing” is an unpretentious record that tries to unfold the pains of juvenile angst through its rousing alt-rock approach. The most noticeable difference here is that they’ve become a bit grungier, as anticipated by the off-kilter guitar strumming that kick starts album opener “Feel The Same”. And perhaps that shift has come at the expense of their melodies. “Losing”’s biggest flaw is its failure to make a significant impact right from the first listen, which perhaps wouldn’t be a liability if we were talking about a more elaborate record. A straightforward rock album is supposed to keep you hooked from the very beginning; “Losing”’s brilliance is too intermittent to fully accomplish that.
Lead singer and bandleader Alicia Bognanno obviously knows how to make a rock record – as a Steve Albini pupil, she produced and mixed “Losing” by herself. And there’s actually no complaint to be made about how it sounds. The guitars are viciously distorted; her vocals as piercing as you’re gonna get from a rock album and the propelling drumming takes songs like “Either Way” or “Kills To Be Resistant” to another level.
There’s obviously a fair lot of aggressiveness in this record, but its lack of melodic depth paradoxically turns that vehemence into something disappointingly inoffensive. Put simply, forgettable songs will still be forgettable even if you sing them really loud. Not that every song on Bully‘s “Losing” fails to make an impact, though. They still pull it off at times, mostly when they’re taking a crack at being Sleater-Kinney. You can almost envision Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker re-enacting the smart interplay between bellicose and serene vocals in album highlight “Kills To Be Resistant”, whose lyrics would also sit along nicely with the likes of “Call The Doctor” or “Little Mouth”: “When I’m around you, I try and keep my distance / ‘Cause what I want with you is none of your business.” With its spiralling guitar parts and forlorn vocals, the bitter “Spiral” is also a fitting example of Bully’s success when they decide to go full Sleater-Kinney.
Bully are not the only ones to release a merely serviceable sophomore album after putting out a great debut. “Losing” is a competent rock album, but at times the songwriting doesn’t live up to the standards set in their previous record. Other than for a couple of really good tracks, there are few reasons for coming back to it on a regular basis.