Catchy, retro pop punk with a current feminist outlook. But a lot more fun than the previous sentence makes it sound.
Listening to Warriors, Bad Cop / Bad Cop’s second album, is almost like time traveling to the late ‘90s. Granted, the Fat Wreck Chords label hasn’t changed its approach since that time, but Bad Cop / Bad Cop nails the melodic punk style that came to define the label during its ascendancy. Lyrically this is an album firmly set in 2017, but it’s not like the social issues the band is raising weren’t also issues in the ‘90s.
The album opens with a heavy hitter. “Retrograde” features a strong guitar riff right out of the gate and a fierce vocal delivery from guitarist Stacey Dee. Her snotty, nasal singing makes her an aural dead ringer for the Muffs’ Kim Shattuck, but the strong harmonizing backing vocals sweeten the sound considerably. The backing vocals are a highlight throughout the album, popping up very effectively to add layers of harmony and countermelody.
Bassist Linh Le sings the second song, “I’m Done”, a harder-edged track with a traditional galloping punk beat and chugging guitar chords. The lyrics are a passionate plea for equality, throwing out phrases like “micro aggressions” and “masculine myth”. Her singing voice is intense and full of body, and it tickled another old Fat Wreck reference in my brain. This reference didn’t lock in until “Warriors”, Le’s other lead vocal track on the album. Musically the song is relatively standard, charging pop punk, but it’s an excellent showcase for Le’s voice. That voice turns out to be another audio twin, this time of Tilt singer Cinder Block. Block was always a terrific singer constrained by middling songwriting, and Bad Cop / Bad Cop is already ahead of Tilt in that department.
Dee returns to sing third track “Womanarchist”, a lively, catchy feminist statement. She throws shade at everyone she can think of, from bigots and misogynists to Trump (“Not this fascist president”), but also alt-left liberals. She identifies herself as a “Punk rock existentialist / Who wants to make the whole world feminist.” In the latter line, the instruments all fall away except for a lingering guitar chord before kicking in again as the vocals end. This is a trick NOFX has used for decades, and it’s maybe the album’s clearest reminder that Fat Wreck label chief (and NOFX vocalist) Fat Mike was a co-producer here.
Guitarist Jennie Cotterill finishes out the album’s trio of feminist songs with “Why Change a Thing?” It features a nice guitar arpeggio riff in the chorus, a strong melody line, and a flat-out great bridge. The sarcastic lyrics take on businessman types who still cling to ‘60s-style masculine ideals but can’t see the world changing around them. Cotterill’s standout track, though, is the album’s slow, big beat centerpiece “Amputations”. It’s an angry kiss-off to Dee, whose drinking during the tour for Bad Cop / Bad Cop’s first album got so bad that they had to cancel the tour and send her to rehab. But Dee came out the other side refocused and ready to go.
And Dee deserves credit for writing the songs with the catchiest hooks and clearest premises on the album. “Victoria” is an earworm about a 13-year-old who committed suicide. It’s a sad story anchored by the line “There’s no glory in dysphoria / Victoria.” The song is relatively short on lyrics, but Dee sketches in enough detail for the story to have weight. “Broken”, which not coincidentally follows “Amputations”, is a self-reflection where she comes to terms with her own choices and past justifications. It helps that the chorus, “I’m broken / What an easy way out,” is a great big sing along. “Kids” is about a bad neighbor who beats up on his children and her anger at his behavior. Dee’s rhyming “beat” with “defeat”, “treat”, and “cheat” in the chorus is pretty lazy, but there is specificity in the lyrics that makes up for it. Also, she includes the great turns of phrase “irrelevant inebriate” and “legit don’t hit your kids,” and those won me back over.
Warriors is an album that manages to be both fun and thoughtful. Bad Cop / Bad Cop’s style sounds retro at this point, but they’re very good at it. It was interesting to listen to their lyrics, which in 2017 mostly seem like mainstream, center-left punk viewpoints. Had this album come out in 1997, the music would fit right in, but lyrically Bad Cop / Bad Cop would have been positioned as a feminist version of Fat’s stridently left-wing anarchists Propagandhi. It’s an illustration, intended or not, of how those viewpoints have evolved over the past 20 years.