Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
For anyone who spent the majority of their youth getting a healthy headphone injection of angst and grunge in the 1990s, Bully’s debut album Feels Like should provide a certain, highly specific sort of comfort. It’s loaded with big guitars, big hooks, and the sort of perfectly manicured imperfection that permeated alternative rock records between the releases of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Hole’s Celebrity Skin. It’s not grunge – not exactly – but it’s doubtful anyone would even blink after hearing standout single “Trying” between similarly raw and anthemic tracks by The Breeders or Smashing Pumpkins.
Alicia Bognanno, the singer and songwriter behind Bully, is too young to have capitalized on all that Gen-X mope and loathing at the time; she was four years old when Kurt Cobain died, just to give one measure. Not that firsthand experience of the “120 Minutes” golden age matters. Bognanno decided at 17 she was going to be a professional musician, interned with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio, and moved to Nashville to pursue a career in rock and roll that’s yielded its first meaty offering with Feels Like.
Simple and straightforward, Feels Like just barely surpasses a half-hour, each highly melodic, yet raw and raging track arriving with both a heavy impact and a radio-ready chorus. Lead-off track “I Remember” is one of the most immediately arresting of the bunch, surging forward with a brick on the accelerator as Bognanno screeches a long list of strange, awkward reminiscences: “I remember getting too fucked up/ And I remember throwing up in your car.”
As thrilling as Bully’s songs can be when careening toward oblivion, they’re more satisfying when cruising at a more comfortable pace, such as on the infectious “Reason” or the Pixies-like strut of “Trying.” But as clever and charismatic a frontwoman as Bognanno is, Feels Like sometimes feels a little too much like a rehash of the alternative-nation era. When Feels Like is at its best, it’s a reminder of how exciting it can be to plug into a distortion pedal and let it rip. In its lesser moments, that’s still more or less what it is. There’s not much in the way of innovation here, but there’s a hell of a lot of fun to be had.