Once known for their predominantly acoustic simplicity, punk-inflected hyper self-awareness, and an equal measure of lyrical cynicism and empathy, AJJ’s ‘Good Luck Everybody’ sees the band continuing to move further away from the roots of their heyday. Sort of.
Stream: ‘Good Luck Everybody’ – AJJ
This sonic change, and ultimately, name change, can be traced back to 2014’s “Christmas Island.” While this album carried plenty of characteristics of the AJJ that was(clever lyrics, self-awareness, and an overall punk-ish aesthetic), it also set in motion what AJJ was to become: a full(er) band, a shortened name(f.k.a. Andrew Jackson Jihad), and by virtue of said name change, a new approach. “Christmas Island,” an experimental record by all accounts for AJJ, was the catalyst that began to divide fans and critics alike from this point on.
While listeners and critics have been less-than-pleased with the sound and production changes from this point in the band’s career, one aspect that has remained largely unchanged is the band’s attention to lyricism. With Good Luck Everybody, Sean Bonnette, vocalist/guitarist/founder, and the band manage to touch on classic AJJ topics such as cultural disillusionment, body autonomy and control, senseless violence, mentally projected violence, and the never-ending need for compassion. All heavy topics at first glance given that this album is the product of a strenuous post-2016 election cycle/pre-2020 cycle and yet, this is where the band generally thrives. Bonnette never over-performs a song, just offering as much sincerity or condescension as might be needed. He is a skilled wordsmith and anecdotalist with a strong ability to guide the listener through taxing, emotional moments and into bizarre and witty respites.
In what possibly resembles the closest thing to a “classic” AJJ song, “Normalization Blues,” is all twanging, wildly-strummed guitar with a robust, backbone of upright bass. By all accounts, this song would be right home with the likes of Woody Guthrie’s “Tear the Fascists Down,” or Phil Och’s “That’s What I Want To Hear.”
I can feel my brain a-changing
Acclimating to the madness
I can feel my outrage
shift into a dull, despondent sadness
I can feel a crust growing over my eyes
Like a falcon hood
In just the opening verse, Bonnette describes in no uncertain terms the collective spectrum of outrage and sadness and numbness that has been, and still is being felt by a large demographic. Detachment, anxiety, cultural division, presidential antics, and a societal struggle to find connection within itself and among one another are all targeted in this song. Bonnette is laying out the skeleton of everything that has started to feel strange and weird post-2016 which has all become, much like the song bemoans, grossly normalized.
The next song, “Body Terror Song,” features a toned down acoustic guitar presence, dainty keyboard and piano melodies, and for the most part, a fairly reserved vocal take. On all fronts, this piece serves as a good example for the new direction the band has been taking. Lyrically, this song centers around, appropriately enough, the terrors that come with having a body.
During a Reddit AMA the band participated in, one user asked if there were specific trans/non-binary overtones, and at first listen, the aim of this question seems to be right on.
I’m very sorry that you have to have a body
One that will hurt you
and be the subject of so much of your fear
It will betray you
Be used against you
Then it will fail on you, my dear
But before that, you’ll be a doormat
For every vicious narcissist in the world
Oh, how they’ll screw you all up and over
Then feed you silence for dessert
By Bonnette’s own admission from the same AMA, this song began as an introspective glance into his own body. Given how relevant these lyrics are in the social climate of 2020, and even before now, Bonnette positively acknowledged the user by suggesting, “Music is made to project your own experiences onto, I am glad you connect with it in this way.”
From this point in the album moving forward, AJJ take to task the idea of the “ghost of great America,” the country, not the theme park, in the song “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope,” pray for the almighty “Mega Guillotine” to clean up the current political system in “Mega Guillotine 2020,” and find a moment of sweetness shared from Bonnette’s dog’s perspective on “Maggie.” Following this, AJJ offers one of the most idiosyncratic songs they’ve maybe ever written: “Psychic Warfare.”
On the opposite end of AJJ’s sonic palette, this song is composed of an energetic and melodic string section, rolling timpani, and xylophone; all orchestral orchestration. “Psychic Warfare” offers the band’s beguiling approach of intricate musical detailing with Iyrics that declare, well, warfare, on the President.
Psychic warfare, I’m gonna murder you with my brain
Psychic warfare, every fiber of my being
is devoted to causing you pain…
For all the rights you roll back
and your constant stream of racism
For all the poison that you drip
in my ear, for all your ugly American fear
I wrote you this beautiful song called Psychic Warfare
For all the drama this song conjures, it’s outlandish, and that’s important.
Psychic warfare, painted a portrait of you in pastel
Red and yellow and orange,
This picture that I painted of you is you burning in hell,
Certainly they are being sincere to their art and their beliefs, but would this song have worked over some melodramatic acoustic guitar and overly-performed vocals? Not a chance. This song shows their ability to balance the outlandish, the left-field instrumentation, and the topical, their grudge with the current political system, and it works.
The album closes with the song “A Big Day for Grimley,” and for all of the heavy songwriting and ornate composition that has crafted the album up to this point, the closing track is a pensive and reserved moment. Bonnette and the band know that the past four years have been difficult, and that things might not be lightening up anytime soon. Sweet and mellow, this song shows the band holding out hope for those who need hope held out.
While Good Luck Everybody, might not be the AJJ record to rope back in past fans, it still has value to offer to those who have stuck around, and value to a new listener that’s looking for something outlandish and sincere.
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📸 © 2020 art © Nate Powell
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