From the first note of SUGAREGG, one thing is clear: Alicia Bognanno’s voice is unparalleled. Snarled but syrupy, oscillating between full-blown punches of screams and melodic softness without ever losing its jagged edge, it weaves an enticing thread throughout an outstanding collection of songs that see Bully, newly reintroduced as Bognanno’s solo project, at their height of their rock powers.
Released on 21st August 2020, this album is a masterpiece in high-energy. Lead singles ‘Every Tradition’ and ‘Where To Start’ are bouncy and spirited, simultaneously ripping the plaster off your skin but soothing the stinging with pop-leaning melodies and clever turns of phrase. ‘Prism’, with its driving drums and scratchy bass, is relentlessly searching and cinematic. SUGAREGG retains the carefree energy that made Bully’s very earliest singles so exciting, the moshpit-exhausting thrashing drums, and sarcastic snarls of fan-favourite ‘Milkman’ evident in mid-album tracks like ‘Stuck In Your Head’ that begins with a joking ad-lib before descending into a riff-heavy frenzy.
Bully have always excelled in articulating painful emotions with honesty, but at times the candour here is heart-breaking. Songs such as ‘Like Fire’ deal explicitly with Bognanno’s treatment for bipolar disorder, speaking of a blazing euphoria, followed by the despairing detachment of ‘Come Down’. The crushing force of pressure, whether from society, lovers, or self-inflicted, is tackled throughout; the lyrics read as Bognanno navigating in real-time how to exist in a world of self-doubt and contradictions.
Crucially, her methods seem to be working, the record’s high-energy pain working to expel shame, guilt, and self-hate, banishing and cleansing the past. Mid-album track ‘Not Ashamed’‘s repeating mantra “I’m not angry anymore/ I’m not holding onto that” is the definition of cathartic, the kind of chorus that would bring you to tears in a crowd of strangers all shouting along. The album reads as a sonic portrait of a weight being lifted.
Perhaps this is where SUGAREGG differs most from Bully’s previous output – it expresses pain and rage, but ends up ultimately in a place of hope. The guitars, still instantly catchy and laden with grungy riffs, soar onwards and upwards, their brittle heaviness energising rather than wallowing. It is restoratively jubilant.
The album reads as a sonic portrait of a weight being lifted.
This is the first Bully record not produced entirely by Bognanno herself, but in collaboration with John Congleton, known for his previous work with Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney. This serves as another kind of opening up, with incredible results; embedded gems like the sound of Bognanno’s dog barking pair perfectly with Bully’s signature whining distortion that blurs into yelling, the instruments and vocals pushed to their breaking points.
SUGAREGG is an exquisitely emotional album perfectly represented by its cover: a shock of cold water falling onto an open, fleshy, human palm.