“Whether in the form of heartbreak, loss or a more general transition, disruptive and sudden change is always just beyond the horizon. Just when you think you have things pretty well sussed, life nukes you with an inter-continental ballistic missile. As refreshingly honest and frank as their debut, Losing assesses the damage of a breakup-shaped bomb and starts to clear the resulting fallout.”
Gnarling and bleached blonde, Bully’s 2015 debut Feels Like was a boldly honest coming-of-age exploration of self. Frankly tackling mental health, body image, love and much more, Alicia Bognanno used her explosive vocals as a liberating force.
This record is no different in that sense, but if Feels Like was a grunge-punk coming-of-age, then Losing seems to reflect another one of life’s certainties: unexpected and potentially unhinging personal change.
Following a similar formula of thrashing instrumentation, fiery vocals and moments of glisteningly sweet emotional tenderness, Bully don’t divert too far from their debut in terms of sound. Lyrically however, Alicia Bognanno’s focus is more continuously centered around one topic: the breakup of her relationship with ex-bandmate, drummer Stewart Copeland.
Bognanno characteristically dives head first into her conflicting feelings and at times appears to look back confidently having seemingly moved on: “Try to put you back in view, but I feel nothing when I do”, she sings on ‘Seeing It’ before erupting into a bone-shaking, coarsely screamed “I quit seeing it in you”. At other points, such as on ‘Hate and Control’, she looks back with resent and frustration, issuing declarations of distance: “Can’t we just exist without your hate and control… you don’t like it when I’m angry? Tough shit, learn to deal”.
But as with any breakup, no one feeling remains dominant for too long. Even earlier on ‘Hate and Control’ Bognanno laments missing the conversation of her ex. Elsewhere she often considers him with a fondness before slipping back into deep frustration: “When I’m alone I stare at your picture, it makes me hopeful, I’m glad for your existence”, she initially muses on ‘Kills to be Resistant’, before the song launches into chaotically thrashing instrumentation and a climaxing refrain of “do you feel nothing?”. Her grievances are clear, but many of the songs are underpinned by a sense of caring and concern. On ‘Running’ for example – a track with an irresistibly endearing 00s pop-punk esque guitar line – she bemoans struggling to return home because of Copeland, but admits an unrelenting tendency to worry about him.
Wearing her heart on her sleeve, no perspective is withheld by Bognanno, whose feelings remain partially confused and conflicted throughout. ‘Blame’, for instance, sees her reinforce her desire to ween herself from her partner, before she questions her own transformation and conduct: “I wonder if sometimes you think that you’ve created a monster… I swear to god I feel like her”. By the final refrain of “I blame you”, we’re left questioning who she means, and whether or not she knows herself.
More often than not, records about breakups will either indulge in one overriding emotion or have you take sides. Bognanno doesn’t give in to that temptation, or perhaps isn’t even aware of it. She and her band just do what they do best: express themselves – warts and all – with a striking openness and propulsive force. It feels like a form of therapy for a band who position the listener as their therapist.
Whilst this is an album about the difficult end to a relationship, it’s just as much an exploration of Bognanno’s own personal response in the face of an unexpected and troublesome change. It’s about the anxieties, self-doubt and contradictory emotions brought about by that upheaval. It’s about getting over it and not getting over it, dealing with it but not dealing with it.
Whether in the form of heartbreak, loss or a more general transition, disruptive and sudden change is always just beyond the horizon. Just when you think you have things pretty well sussed, life nukes you with an inter-continental ballistic missile. As refreshingly honest and frank as their debut, Losing assesses the damage of a breakup-shaped bomb and starts to clear the resulting fallout.