Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band - Bubblegum (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band

Bubblegum (2013)

Devinyl Records

I don’t know what it is--I have an aversion to bands named after the singer.

Something about the act of naming a band after a single member, usually of the "singer-songwriter" ilk, strikes me as something from another world outside of punk, a form of narcissism that veers towards distastefully mainstream. Who does this Devine asshole think he is, anyway, Jon Bon Jovi? And so it is because of said aversion that, having heard Kevin Devine’s name bandied about for a while, I never bothered to check him out. I was too busy listening to bands with terrible names that carried no relation to their individual members whatsoever--just as rock n’ roll was intended.

As it turns out, I was an ignoramus and a fool. Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band’s album, Bubblegum, is one of the best records to come out of 2013.

From the melting facade of George Washington dripping down the album cover, to the very last note of the album, the most striking aspects of Bubblegum are its energy and its outspoken politics. One of Devine's clear aims on this release is to air a laundry list of grievances with his country, facing each item individually. Album opener "Nobel Prize" serves as the album’s mission statement, taking issue with a country overstepping its boundaries in global affairs, as well as its role in the systematic degradation of the planet. This is followed up by the song "Private First Class", a passionate defense of Bradley Manning and the role of the modern whistleblower: "9 months in a hole/3 years in a cage/For having a soul/The American way." All the while, the songs stride the gap between punk rock and pop, the cheery energy of the songs belying the serious and earnest message within, lifted by explosive, sing-along choruses, particularly those of "Nobel Prize" and the eponymous "Bubblegum".

The third song on the album, "Fiscal Cliff", finds Devine positing that perhaps the theater of news and politics serves as a mere "distraction from the main event", and questions the role all American citizens play in the circus, as both victims and accomplices. It becomes clear early in the album that Devine’s goal is to shout his brand of sense to anyone within earshot, and he does so in a way that is eloquent, focused, and informed, yet not so heavy-handed that the message verges on cartoony or impotent. In this way he avoids the "preaching to the choir" pit trap that many a political punk/rock band have plunged into in recent years.

The next striking element of this album is the variety of styles showcased within the songs themselves. Album highlight "Bloodhound" forgoes politics for a fuzzy-guitared, Weezer-esque two-and-a-half minutes of poppy goodness, while songs "I Can’t Believe You" and "Redbird" have much to thank producer Jesse Lacey of Brand New for, as his touch is evident within the slower, more melancholy tracks of the record. Lacey also plays multiple instruments throughout the album, so fans of Brand New should definitely feel their interests piqued by what awaits their ears on Bubblegum. At other times, sonic touches along the lines of early Foo Fighters and Ted Leo (another rare "dude with a band named after him" worthy of respect in indie-punk) creep into the mix as well.

Bubblegum is an eclectic album that finds itself snatching influence from a dozen different sources and distilling them into a focused, intelligent album that feels vital when held up to the current sorry state of rock’s role in politics. It’s catchy, it’s mature, and in a better world, one might just hear "Nobel Prize" or "Bloodhound" on the radio--but as Kevin Devine is quick to point out, it’s not such a world that we live in. But maybe someday.