There have always been angry women in music, but these days, an album like The Devil You Know feels like dressing a wound on the battlefield—exactly what you need in order to carry on the fight. It is angry but never ugly, melodic without ever being syrupy, addressing gun violence, street harassment and more, all without ever becoming overbearing or preachy.
Right off the top, “Bimbo” sets the tone, a hard-candy contrast between guitarist Julia Kugel’s sweeter vocal stylings and Stephanie Luke’s Johnette Napolitano-esque growl. Don’t be fooled by the honey-coated harmonies – these girls are not here to be simply listened to. They’ve got a world to save.
More political than party, songs like “Hey Buddy,” mark the girls in a position to use their stage as a soapbox, taking on catcallers, street preachers and the entire lot of people who condemn people for just trying to live their lives, whether they’ve got on a short skirt or are holding hands as a same sex couple. “It ain’t me/it is only your fear.” The Devil You Know is striving to be an an immensely inclusive record; advocating for anyone who needs advocating for, rather than just themselves.
It’s not hard to write a song criticizing the NRA and their culpability in the American culture of violence and white supremacy, but that doesn’t take away the power of “F The NRA.” “Human fear’s the perfect market,” Kugel snarls. We’re all thinking it, she’s just brave enough to get up on stage and sing it.
“Memories” has a deliciously Devo bassline, courtesy of Meredith Franco. The vocals are thin, almost robotic. “I’ll be your lighthouse in the dark” is as close to a love song as we’re going to get on this album, which is much more preoccupied with fighting for the world than being someone’s sap. Appropriately, it’s the album’s high point.
The “I’m short of time, like bubble gum” Julia songs on “Last Call.” In true punk form, no song is longer than 3:30, but the songs themselves never feel too quick or unfinished, with the possible exception of the quirky, child-squeak of “Stasher”, which, at 2:10, does leave the listener wanting more – not unlike the protagonist of the song pleading “I haven’t got all of it yet.” It’s a clever joke to sing “You get what you get” and then, musically, just leave it at that.
The only misstep is the Grace Slick crawl of “Lithium.” It’s a little on the nose, and while it might have worked in the center of the album, it’s a jarring closer for something that has been so energetic up until now.
Maybe there will be a day when we don’t need songs telling the NRA to “suck my dick.” But until then The Devil You Know masterfully walks the line between politically charged while remaining , perhaps tragically, timeless. But it’s also an immensely listenable album, a fully realized emerging of the band’s true power in crafting edgy, electric songs.