Photo Credit: Twitter @Badflower
On their debut release, OK, I’M SICK, Los Angeles four-piece Badflower exhibit an array of symptoms that one might not expect to find on the same musical medical chart, particularly the influence of 90s and early 2000s bands ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Fountains of Wayne (remember “Stacey’s Mom?”) to Linkin Park.
OKAY, I’M SICK certainly starts out healthy enough with the first cut “x ANA x.” A tellingly concise curtain-raiser, the song perfectly sets the stage for what will follow, particularly the production style similar to the aforementioned Linkin Park and much of their rap-rock ilk. The song – an ode to self-examination and wondering just by whose standards anyone can truly be deemed unwell – also includes a spoken word section, which recalls classic hardcore tracks like Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized.”
Next up is “Jester,” a bit more streamlined but no less effective, sticking to a similar notion while transposing from a loud scream to, well, a quiet scream. “Is anyone out there looking out for me?” the song’s narrator ponders, affirming that the betrayal or even the indifference of others is no less scarring when we’re not aware that it’s happening. “Jester” isn’t joking with the classic rock-style guitar solo, courtesy of lead axe man Joey Morrow, which closes the track. Sublime and catchy “Ghost” is utterly radio-friendly (or radio edit friendly: Badflower’s lyrics drop the f-bomb as liberally as a Martin Scorsese movie). The song is an unsurprising choice for the first single; it’s one of those songs that don’t afford you the time to dislike it. You’ll replay it at least once before going forward with the rest of the album.
Badflower leaves little doubt that their primary concern is that of adolescent feelings of depression and isolation, but lest anyone get the impression that OK, I’M SICK is just a long stare into a cracked mirror or that Badflower are simply chronic whiners with Marshall amps, they do expand their subject matter to more universal social and political matters, and when doing so, not a single punch is pulled. “Murder Games,” a song protesting meat which even Morrissey would probably find extreme, contains a graphic spoken word description of animal slaughter that would send even Popeye’s hamburger-gorging friend Wimpy right for the nearest salad bar. Anti-Trump anthem “Die” may be the most blatantly violent musical tirade against a sitting president since the Dead Kennedys’ quaint little anti-Reagan ditty “Bleed for Me.”
Badflower’s debut does contain a weed or two. It’s curious as to why they would choose to include “Girlfriend,” which is little more than a mess of misogynistic rantings. Do Badflower fear being taken for wimps after emotionally introspective and pro-vegan songs? You can’t just go all Crew – Motley or 2 Live – when it suits a short-term purpose. Also, the 90s influence gets a bit stale on back-to-back cuts “24”, which is clearly aching to be this generation’s answer to Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” and the title-say-it-all “Heroin”, which merely drones on for too long.
The album closes with “Cry,” which though lyrically it might be a bit clichéd: “And it falls // it falls like rain // And when it falls // You won’t feel the same // You won’t feel the pain.” Within the context of the twelve tracks that directly precede it, its overall no huge departure, but it does include a few last-minute surprises such as the inclusion Beatles-like harmonizing and a string section. Using this song as the final track may be Badflower’s way of assuring everyone that It’s very much their intention to evolve musically.
Still, the seeming mix-match – or even contradiction – of dark subject matter and catchy hooks for the most part works. The very band’s name reflects this principle (it’s probably no coincidence that it’s a single word). However, for anyone seeking the simplified, walk-in clinic diagnosis: much of OK, I’M SICK is indeed sick (in the good way that the kids use) but much of it is also just okay. There will no doubt be second opinions, and many beyond – however Badflower have already proved themselves worthy of the attention.