The average song by Woodstock, New York-based rock revivalists the Bobby Lees barely, only occasionally, breaks the two-minute mark. It’s part of the band’s charm, its immediacy. And those songs also are packed with insane degrees of vitality, which lends them stature and volume that far outstrips their mild run-times. The band is experiencing an explosion of critical acclaim these days, garnering shout-outs from the likes of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Henry Rollins, and the result of all this newfound attention is a brand-spanking new LP, Bellevue, the band’s first, with much anticipation, for Mike Patton‘s Ipecac Recordings.
The Bobby Lees have always rocked and rocked hard, and they continue to do so in Bellevue; that part of the formula (thankfully) remains unchanged. But what is also thrown into the mix is an alarmingly potent ambition and maturity that recordings like 2020’s Skin Suit, however brilliant at the time, lacked. Bellevue, as a result, is a defining moment for the quartet, its most scorching and essential recording to date, and a collection of songs that, yes, let’s boil it down, rock hard.
There are many ear-trembling barn-burners on the new LP, more than one could even catalog, and each is written and performed with vim, vigor, and intensity. “Ma Likes to Drink”, with its drum-driven verses (kudos to drummer Macky Bowman), is riotous fun and features excellent dimension between guitarist Nick Casa’s roaring, crunchy refrains and Kendall Wind’s dexterous, even playful bass work. “Death Train” rumbles with a power-surging chug-a-long on bass – and, yes, one fill that appears to pay homage to Tetris. “In Low” is insanely danceable, especially considering the guitars are used not for propulsion but punctuation. “Monkey Mind”, with its incredible sing-along choruses, is drop-dead stadium-ready.
What blows this critic’s mind, though, is the more ambitious fare – the potency and self-awareness of the brilliant “Hollywood Junkyard” paired with frontwoman Sam Quartin’s scene-stealing delivery; the oddly beautiful piano work, once solemn and lonely, of the entrancing “Strange Days”; the bullet-riddled high-noonery of “Be My Enemy”. Then, there’s “Dig Your Hips”. Quartin spits off the lyrics frenetically on that one and Casa’s non-distorted guitar verses, which mirror Wind’s groovy bass, wonderfully call to mind the B-52’s “Rock Lobster”. The catchy-as-all-hell chorus, where Quartin intones, “I know you’re hiding / I’m not”, will knock your goddamned socks off if that’s your idea of a good time. The thing is so immensely cut for dancing that it’s ridiculous.
Quartin, no doubt by this point, is a star in the making. Her turns on “Hollywood Junkyard”, where she barks, wails, and squeals her way into your cerebellum, are bordering on prescient, with the self-reflexive nature of “making it” fully on the menu to devour. The Bobby Lees’ video for the cut took the conceit even a few steps further. They also are proud to treat the LP as a full-sitting affair. The Bobby Lees bookend the new LP with short but blistering bits of punk to serve as intros and outros. The fill material throughout – especially from Bowman and Wind – is a catalog of a group having a great time with their 15 minutes in the spotlight. Throughout the recording, Quartin is positively magnetic, so much so that even her quirky vocal asides – the incidental bits captured in the process of recording the band – are tantamount to royalty and deserve to be treated as such.
There is no justice left in this sad, broken world if the Bobby Lees do not get some serious mileage out of this LP. Its arrival is perfectly timed in the group’s record cycle, two years from the sophomore album and four from the full-length debut. Its content doesn’t hit the mark – it beats the living crap out of it. As they were on Skin Suit, the Bobby Lees are fully locked and loaded, with Sam Quartin leading the way with her unique and passionate deliveries. The difference this time is the band reached deep down to pull up something ambitious, challenging, and real. This LP is the real thing, people. God bless the Bobby Lees for it.