Bad Books is what happens when indie darlings who happen to be good friends get together and make an album.
No, I’m not talking about Broken Social Scene or Divine Fits. Rather, Kevin Devine (of his own namesake), Andy Hull (Right Away, Great Captain!) and the rest of his Manchester Orchestra.
But where other so-called supergroups transcend previous genre boundaries, utilizing their newfound bandness to venture into previously undiscovered territories, Bad Books’ eponymous debut plays it safe.
The pairing of Devine and the rest of ManOrch was inevitable. The two had toured together on numerous occasions, and even released a single of cover songs called I Could Be the Only One.
On Bad Books, Hull and Devine trade vocal duties, harmonizing on several songs, but in general letting the other take the spotlight from track to track. In this way, the album plays out more like an extended guest spot for Devine on a Manchester release rather than the coupling of two talented singer-songwriters.
Which, to be honest, I’m not complaining. I’m a recent fan of Devine’s, and a longtime follower of MO, so hearing them on the same album (and a few months ago, seeing them on the same stage) was a bit of a geek out moment. I guess I just wish they had experimented a bit more, because for two writers who are so prolific, the amount of material coming from both that reeks of aural sameness is starting to wear on me as a listener.
For instance, given the proper context, “Texas” could very well have been a RAGC! b-side. In the same vein, “The Easy Mark & the Old Maid” and “You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid” are direct rips from… I don’t know, any Devine release. Pick one.
Again, it’s not at all a knock on the combo, because I’m delighted it exists. Moonlighting as “Bad Books” rather than “Kevin and Andy” (or, okay, Andy and Kevin) seems to be a bit of a stretch. How much influence, really, could the other members of ManOrch have played here?
Labeling notwithstanding, highlights of Bad Books include the single “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask” and the raucous “Holding Down the Laughter,” which is the funnest song of their entire catalogue, which includes their sophomore record (and aptly-titled) II. Like having a beach party where everyone likes the beach. We’ve all been there.
Maybe it’s this band that will finally elevate Kevin Devine to the public attention and adoration he deserves. Hull and the rest of MO are there. Sometimes it takes a few friends to get you where you want to go, though.
From Bad Books, this is “Holding Down the Laughter” –
Standout tracks: “Baby Shoes,” “You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid” and “Please Move”
Weakest track: “Texas”
RIYL: Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine & The God Damn Band, Andy Hull, KevDev. Bang for your buck.