(Photo Credit - Angelina Castillo)
Advance Review - Bully: SUGAREGG (August 21, 2020)
When I write a review of an album, I try to remain as objective as possible. The noblest thing I can do for the individuals I critique is to not let my personal tastes dictate how I feel about their new sounds. How I approach a new piece- Production plays a huge part. What did they do differently this time? What personal battles have they defeated or are still fighting that are being communicated to us as an audience? We all love to see our favorite artists progress. Sometimes we’re bummed when a new album comes out and it sounds… Different. I’ve had that happen to me but then that album wound up being that artist’s favorite of mine. I am exceptionally fond of finding new artists and listening to their discography and comparing it to their most current release. I've spent an entire week listening to the same albums repeatedly to make sure I haven’t missed something.
Bully’s new album SUGAREGG has left me completely enamored along with band lead’s Alicia Bognanno and her story. This review will be more personal than usual and serve as a love letter, from me, as to why consuming art of any form is important.
Last week I had finally gotten around to watching Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell (2018). Elisabeth Moss as the self-destructive rocker Becky Something left me stunned. She is brilliant, along with the rest of the cast. It’s one of my favorite films I’ve watched this year, maybe of the past five. I’m a sucker for a film about an aging musician who’s trying to find their sound again, especially ones that do it so unconventionally. The first 50 minutes cease to let up.
A day later, I get the press release and link to SUGAREGG so I can review it. I listened to Bully’s past albums first, as I do when I come across a new artist. I said to myself “Oh right on! A modern day Cherie Currie or something”. As I began to dig into Bully and Bognanno, Her Smell was in the back of mind. I was hearing music from two different sources that seemed to be on the same wavelength. As I dug more into Bognanno, I was baffled to find out she wrote the songs for Her Smell. Almost as much as the first I watched The Sopranos and realized Steven Van Zandt (Who plays Silvio Dante) is a main component of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Her Smell was the first perusal into the film world for Bognanno, a definite inspiration that led to SUGAREGG. From the Sub Pop press release about the album, she is quoted:
“It got me motivated to play music again after the last album,” she says. “I loved reading the script and trying to think, what music would the character write? People asked if I’d play those songs with Bully but the whole point was for them to not be Bully songs. It was nice to get my head out of my own ass for a second and work on a project for someone else,”
As I began to finally listen to SUGAREGG (after picking myself up off the floor from the made connection between Bognanno and Her Smell), I was struck by the deeply matured sound and arrangement I was hearing from the first track, “Add It On”. It’s a classic Bully heavy-hitter. The overlaid vocal melodies show an artist that’s gone from brooding to contemplative with more of an upbeat interest in the things change can bring. “Every Tradition” follows immediately after on the track list, a single that was released for the album. The lyrics in this particular selection are the most intuitive into the meaning of the album and demonstrates the self-reflexivity at play.
“It’s like pressure to have a baby
When I don’t want one in my body”
“If you’re going to shame me,
Turn around, bite your tongue ‘til it bleeds.”
Bognanno seems to have let go of her struggle to uphold society’s standards and forced aspects of being a woman and how her soul challenges to conform. She’s found her voice as a female artist that can be looked upon as a feminist leader and a scolder of ignorant scoundrels.
These lyrics also exemplify her getting over the anxiety of how she is perceived as an artist. After finding the equilibrium between daily life and the diagnosis for Bipolar 2 disorder, Bognanno’s paranoia slips away and her new sense of freedom leads to SUGAREGG being her first co-produced album. Not only a phenomenal artist, Bognanno is an impressive engineer who keyed the first two Bully albums. Stepping in as a producer is Grammy-winner John Cogleton, who has recorded tracks with the likes of St. Vincent and Modern Mouse. Also featured on the album is Zach Dawes, most notably for his work with Lana Del Rey.
As the album unfolds, it’s clear that all the personal battles Bognanno has faced and been triumphant in, have led to her newfound confidence and Bully’s best album yet. My favorite track off the album, Come Down, is one I want to see live someday. As I listen to it, I see our protagonist on the high road, never to be brought by again by things that have before.
Learning about the artist and why they made that stroke of the brush or arranged a piece the way they did or wrote the words they did is something that can’t be scratched on surface level interaction. Art is meant to be an intimate interaction between performer and audience. What Bognanno is telling other artists and myself with SUGAREGG is give it hell. Some traditions are meant to be broken. Take care of yourself. Take care of others. Create.
Rating - 4.5/5