SEPTEMBER ALBUM OF THE MONTH
The most urgently needed music of 2021, Badflower return with the defining album of 2021. No ‘difficult second album’ syndrome here; ‘OK I’m Sick’ disappears in the rear-view mirror as Badflower hold a mirror up the world with a new body of work that is poetic in its lyricism, cinematic in its storytelling and almost symphonic its musical and emotional range.
It’s an album of stories – and stories that have consequences. The style is observational rather than preachy and there is creative honesty through the state of vulnerability. Once again, Badflower demonstrates a great ability to tackle big issues in different ways – employing everything from venom to ridicule.
With Badflower, rock n roll is testifying once again – the heart is beating. There’s no classic rock cliches here, the band has something relevant to say, and in tackling many of big issues in today’s world they create new soundscapes that breathe life and drama into their stories. No formulaic verse-chorus templates here, this is music as fine art – richly inventive and category-defining.
This review was written after just one listen to the album. I may miss all the clever stuff on the press release, I just jotted down how the music made feel while listening. It was an arresting, fully-immersive experience of surprises, subtleties and flourishes, I can’t remember the last time an album grabbed me so completely on a first listen. And I can’t compare this band to any other, they’re Badflower and this album could only be them.
As an album, the songs lay bare the insecurities, the battles with inner demons, the hollowness of modern life, the dark rabbit holes people can find themselves in. The album presents people-stories spanning big issues such as stalking, social media obsession, guns, sexual abuse – and the lyrical prowess of the curation is utterly brilliant throughout. The music adds depth through its moments of control and contrast – delicate, fragile moments counterpointed by ferocity, depth and intensity.
‘Adolescent Love’ opens the album – nostalgic, vulnerable, looking back at the age of innocence and memories of a first love. Evocative storytelling from the start, a narrative that draws you in as the music grows in layers. Rock bands that think you open an album with the biggest banger possible, take note from this Badflower album.
‘Fukboi’ is up next, bit of a punk vibe – more aggressive pop than rock but it’s instantly arresting. Is this an ode to the band leaving California for a better life, a reaction to the fake and the shallow? And here also lies the rebellious beauty of Badflower songs – the explicit lyrics make this song awkward for radio programmers, yet it would be just brilliant for the airwaves! A band not following easily, compliant formulas in the music world, you almost have to be a rebel to play it, and that’s the true spirit of rock n roll right there.
The single ‘Family’ had a big reaction on my Friday show, the song has a style that actually resonates more with the debut album. It’s the dark but heart-wrenching lyrical narrative that elevates this song above the ordinary and as a counterpoint to the album opener, nostalgia has been replaced by pain, darkness and questioning self-worth – “a shitty brother I’m nobody’s friend.”
‘Johnny Wants to Fight’ takes us to the Hollywood Strip for some mindless threats and violence. Beneath that macho strut to the song’s rhythms, this is an angry song for a heartless world.
‘Stalker’ captures the psyche of a mindset – a messed up world, music that is manic, thinking that is irrational in this exploration of darkness. References to the consequences of being bullied and the monsters we create from childhood moments. Musically, the song shows huge self-confidence from the band in the range of styles and textures they employ. A Richly masterful song, and there’s no other band around that sounds like this.
‘Everyone’s An Asshole’ is my choice pick from this fine album – and, for me, it could have been the album title. A song for the self-righteous, the armchair experts, the cowards, the blame gang – a shallow world with a lack of role models. As a natural wrap to the first section of the album, this feels like Josh’s summation of what’s wrong with the world and is the possibly the basis of a manifesto for change – because you have to really bottom-out and call what’s wrong – and really shake it – before you can rebuild better.
This song has a wonderful opening section that is followed by a vibrant rock mid-section. Once again, the seamless contrast of musical segments makes the songs so exciting and immersive. Brilliant lyrically, my song of the album.
Musically, ‘She Knows’ is needed at this point of the album to bring things down for a moment. The art of this album is the lyrics and music work together but often they do opposite things; here the music is so tender and beautiful but the story being told seems utterly sad. There’s an over-riding sense of sadness over a hollow relationship that reminded me of the opening segment of Marillion’s ‘Sky Above The Rain.’ On face value, some may pick this as a radio song from the album because it sounds like a ‘safe and melodic’ power ballad – but this totally misses the point of the album. This isn’t a song to pick a safe song from, this album demands you go all-in and get real.
With ‘Only Love’ Josh is not just singing a song, he’s in-character, living the song like an actor. Referencing again back to the album opener, here’s a grown-up version of the anguish of feeling love: love isn’t easy, it can send you into torment, it can control you.
Next up its time for the media and social media world to get a kicking. ‘Sasshole’ brings the media sass. “Oh they talk” – the noise, the hype – and the music conveys a sense of addiction and menace; it’s time maybe to stop having social media running our lives and the chasing of affirmation and shadows online. The repeated line “That guy is so rock n roll” delivers a sense of irony to a highly emotive song.
Following this comes the self-loathing, sadness and implied obsession of ‘Don’t Hate Me’ which tackles the human condition of trying to be someone else; maybe amplified in the era of obsession with image and likes and viewing other people’s lives on social media. This is followed by ‘Tethered’ – a story on the loss of innocence, abuse and the tragic consequences. A girl with a child, trapped, stuck in a rabbit hole.
‘Machine Gun’ delivers a lyric touching on a big US topic – guns and perceived links to patriotism and social polarisation. With “manipulate the broken” there is underlying social commentary to this story; peer pressure, consequences and yet the uncaring world moves on.
‘My funeral’ closes the album – a fantasy on someone’s death and once again the consequences: The enemies who would be sorry, the trending on social media, those who would pretend they were friends – a narrative on shallow behaviour of the collective, for an album that has presented individual stories and issues against the backdrop of a world that keeps moving on. The final thought contrasts the lives of privilege against those that really endure hardship – and the closing line resolves do do some good ‘to shut up and donate to a charity.’
After a wall or darkness, the album closes with a simple, positive resolution that suggests there is power in the human spirit to improve and step-by-step – person by person – to create a better world. The album’s closing line packs a powerful final message – for people to stop yelling on Twitter about problems and instead do something about it and help. Shutting up and donating to a charity isn’t a bad place to start.
The band members have recently moved out of California to quieter, more peaceful places and Josh is starting life on a farm, rescuing animals, living the life to the authentic values he believes in. One can’t help wonder whether this album is a goodbye to the big city showbiz life they have left – with the hype, the media frenzy, the anger, the division, the violence and the inequalities. This album makes you think and sometimes you have to face the darkness to resolve to change and move to the light – or that hope from ‘Tethered’ to “find a better life.”
This album is unlike any rock album I’ve heard this year. Its starkly in-your-face and original. The music arrangements are clever, the lyrics masterful and the vocal performances totally alive. At a time when some call for the revival of the classic rock era, this album reminds us we don’t need old to come back – no, we need rock music to speak for our world today in 2021 and doing this defines and creates the musical expression that should evolve. We need to talk about today’s issues – we need guitar music to protest, to observe and drive change. Badflower have delivered the benchmark album that speaks for ‘the now’ and, in doing so, they could well be defining the future of rock n roll for a new era.
‘This Is How The World Ends’ is released on 24 September
Pre-orders from https://Badflower.lnk.to/TIHTWE_UK
For more updates on the band and more information visit Badflowermusic.com