Album of the Week | Bully: Lucky For You

Nashville multi-instrumentalist Alicia Bognanno's fourth album is an open-hearted, anthemic career best

Music Reviews Bully
Album of the Week | Bully: Lucky For You

Bully’s Alicia Bognanno has never shied away from letting her music get personal. Though the Nashville musician has been churning out high-energy rock songs since 2015’s Feels Like, the work has always served as an effervescent vessel. While its standout single “Trying” found her examining her tendency to criticize herself, it did so with a howling chorus—her signature raspy voice raw with power, and a rhythm section bouncing along with it. This structure has become Bully’s winning formula. Bognanno never has to sacrifice the music or force herself into a mode of subtly to be introspective. Since 2020’s excellent SUGAREGG, Bully has acted as her solo project. Though, as a listener, that’s kind of what it’s always felt like. Sure, Bognanno is a star when she performs and her charisma is undeniable, but she shines just as brightly as a behind-the-scenes operator. Having produced and written the first two Bully albums, it’s always been clear that Bognanno was running the show, letting her knack for bending diaristic writing into striking melodies take the spotlight.

The life Bognanno has lived in the intervening years now resides inside songs of their own. Bully’s new album, Lucky For You, is her finest work to date. Never before has Bognanno crafted a record so consistently captivating, able to fire on all cylinders even in its quieter moments. Lucky For You was made alongside producer J.T. Daly, known for his work with acts like PVRIS and K. Flay. While the pairing may seem odd, the album was made to sound right at-home on the radio. The man behind “Blood In The Cut” certainly helped ensure that it sounds incredible while blaring from car speakers.

The trauma at the heart of Lucky For You, though, is the passing of Bognanno’s beloved dog Mezzi. When her life was in flux, Mezzi was a grounding force. Her passing and its effect on Bognanno are chronicled throughout every line of “Days Move Slow,” a song that sounds like a hazy summer day, where the sun is beating down on you. With animated drum fills and fizzy, jagged riffs, Bognanno makes “And days move slow / I’m living in the same black hole” feel less like an explanation of the hopelessness that accompanies grief and more like an anthem. “Days Move Slow,” is, importantly, not nihilistic, though. Immediately after gazing into the void, she sings: “There’s flowers on your grave, that grow / Something’s gotta change, I know.” Hope is implicit, an acknowledgment that change can bring with it beauty and evolution. Still, it makes for a heavy message for a song with this much pep.

Bognanno has also been open about her journey with sobriety-and now, as she looks on from a new vantage point, she’s begun looking back on all the things her pre-sobrietry regrets. In the album’s barnstormer of an opener, “All I Do,” Bognanno reaffirms the promises she’s made to herself while going great distances to make things right. It’s an absolutely massive song, wasting no time in enveloping you in Bully’s trademark fuzz and feedback. The noise breaks only during the bridge, giving space for a proclamation: “I’ll never get fucked up again.”

While Bognanno’s lyrical content helps set the band head and shoulders above their peers, the real magic of Lucky For You comes in the form of melodies so catchy that “infectious” feels like an understatement. Pick nearly any song on the tracklist and there’s guaranteed to be a hook made that will rattle around in your head for days on end. There’s the snarling “Hard To Love” which coils back and strikes like a snake, with just as much venom in its conception as there is in its execution. Bognanno’s voice mimics a sonic whiplash, with a zen murmur in its verses, only to lurch forth in its snarling chorus.

There’s “Change Your Mind,” a sweltering rock song that finds Bognanno trying to hold a relationship together with every ounce of strength she can muster. It’s the kind of song that begs to be played live, where every line will surely get shouted back twice as loud. Absolute ripper “How Will I Know” may not have gotten the single release treatment in the album’s rollout, but it’s as titanic as any of the four that did. Like the Whitney Houston classic that shares its name, it’s a song examining mixed signals from a partner. That’s where the similarities end, though, as Bully’s song is built on pounding drums and heavy, serrated guitars. Bognanno’s performance here is an arresting, career-best.

The only moment on Lucky For You where Bognanno reigns in her firestorm is on the slight, languid “A Love Profound.” Structurally, the song is unique in Bully’s catalog: A chorus marked by guitar riffs that are as brief and explosive as someone trying to strike a match, and a soft, wispy backing vocal. Bognanno’s voice is affected and ghostly, as she whispers in your ear lines like “Sometimes our humanity diminishes the beauty” and “It burdens me the most witnessing your lack of interest in the things that you once loved.” Every moment of “A Love Profound” is a disarming biopsy of human emotion—and, whether you personally relate to the feelings depicted or have seen them in people you love, they land with a punch, no matter how delicately Bognanno delivers them.

“Lose You”, a duet with fellow Nashvillian Sophie Allison—aka Soccer Mommy—captures a sentiment with its opening line that could easily be the record’s thesis statement: “Time’s just a useless measurement of pain” Bognanno proclaims, with a sense of resignation in her voice. It depicts her dreaming and grappling with loss, fighting at how impossible it is to fix things that have already happened, or feel inevitable. “Lose You” is the first time Bully has ever had a feature on a song, and Allison’s presence is like that of a supportive friend. She and Bognanno finish each other’s lines, like two people venting and creating a feedback loop. “Either way I’m gonna lose you,” Bognanno sings on its swaying chorus. Though she describes a future set in stone, the fighting spirit that animates all of Bully’s music is undeniably present. A decade into a career of adapting to change, or meeting tasks at hand no matter how rough, Bully is not a band that is going to remain stagnant.

Eric Bennett is a music critic in Philadelphia with bylines at Pitchfork, Post-Trash and The Alternative. They are also a co-host of Endless Scroll, a weekly podcast covering the intersection of music and internet culture. You can follow them on Twitter @violet_by_hole.

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