Kevin Devine - Bubblegum & Bulldozer

This is Devine brimming with confidence and energy – and to remarkable effect.

Label: Big Scary Monsters

Rating:

It’s a rare musical joy when an album holds within it a song, lyric or even a riff that captures the essence of the entire record perfectly. When this happens for a double album it is even rarer. But in Kevin Devine’s pair, Bubblegum and Bulldozer, there is a lyric that does just that. “If you’re angry, well, I’m angry too.” Sung in the chorus of ‘Fiscal Cliff’ the third track of brazen, Jesse Lacey-produced rock album ‘Bubblegum’, these seven words encapsulate the frustration and rage Devine brings to these recordings, but also the sense of community and engagement.

There’s no doubt this is Devine’s most passionate work. Some might point at his ridonkulously successful Kickstarter project as key to the sense of liberation and comfort across ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Bulldozer’. This is part of it – but more important is Devine coming of age in an ailing world ripe for his songwriting picking. Albums back, Devine would lament himself in his music – his own failings, drink, drugs, inaction – but now, matured and wiser, he turns his lyrical prowess outwards and aims his razor sharp satire at wider, societal issues – recession, war, suffering. Don’t worry, the albums aren’t laden down with clumsy allegories and Daily Show witticisms, Devine is much too astute for that. But when he has a target, he doesn’t pull any punches.

The opening track of ‘Bubblegum’ kicks hard. It’s rough, unrefined and the hardest Devine has ever launched himself at a record, the effort audible in a voice choking with fury. The tempo continues with the Chelsea Manning-inspired ‘Private First Class’ and again with the aforementioned ‘Fiscal Cliff’, a song attacking America’s insipid attempts to balance its budget. He finds himself introverted on ‘Redbird’, but lashes out again on ‘She Can See Me’.

‘Bulldozer’, the friendlier poppy, folksy album, is no less full on. It’s not as acoustic and stripped back as some will expect but it does not disappoint (unless you were waiting on eleven ‘Ballgames’). ‘From Here’, a tribute to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, sees Devine take the high-octane angst and engagement on the rock album to a personal and moving level. It also showcases his ability to tell a story and immerse listeners, a trait seen again on near-love song ‘Matter of Time’.

Devine says two albums gave him the freedom to write the songs he wanted to write, both hard and soft. He says Kickstarter gave him freedom from the music industry to work without pressure of interference. Whatever the contributing factors to ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Bulldozer’, it’s clear this is Devine brimming with confidence and energy – and to remarkable effect.