Bully’s Alicia Bognanno credits the creation of her new record, Sugeregg, in part to finding proper treatment for her bipolar II disorder. “Being able to finally navigate that opened the door for me to write about it,” she said in a release about the album, which deftly moves from moshpit rockers to contemplative slow-burners with an alacrity that that should put the whole “you have to suffer for your art” thing to rest.
Fellow perfectionists have long felt a kinship with Bognanno, about whom former boss Steve Albini once said: “If everybody worked as hard as Alicia then everybody’s records would be Number One hits.” After interning for Albini at his Electrical Audio studio, she went on to produce both of Bully’s previous albums — 2015’s Feels Like and 2017’s Losing. Sugaregg marks the first time Bognanno let anyone else behind the boards; even then, it had to be the best of the best: Grammy-winning producer John Congleton. Free from “the weight of feeling like I had to prove to the world I was capable of engineering a record,” Bognanno said that she was finally able to fully let loose creatively.
Bully has long been compared to Nirvana — Bognanno recently covered “About a Girl” — and they don’t wander far from that Nineties rock sound here. Sugaregg starts off wild and wooly with “Add It On,” a headbanger of a track that sees Bognanno running her voice ragged over sprightly yet searing guitars: “I’m angry and I want someone to blame,” she barks, echoing the collective feelings of most of the U.S. at present. “Every Tradition” treads in on softer feet, before Bognanno asks jauntily, “Shall we?” and propels us forward into a rager about the singer’s disconnect to stereotypical feminine traditions: “It’s like pressure to have a baby/When I don’t want one in my body.” House party breakdown of a track “Where to Start” rushes in next, an angsty, high-energy track about a frustrating paramour that brings a reprieve from serious talk. Lest we get too comfortable in the pit, the deliciously grungey “Prism” is up next, the trudging guitar line standing in contrast to Bognanno’s more-melodic-than-usual vocals: “Oooo the sun hits a prism/Oooo your ghost in my kitchen/Oooo the sun hits a prism.”
And so the record flows, hitting knee-skinning highs like “Stuck in Your Head” (“I just wanted to pick up the tempo!” Bognanno sing-songs as the band counts off), barn-burners like “You” (about, it seems, an absent parent) and the hauntingly discordant “Hours and Hours.” Whatever the subject matter, whatever the tempo, each track finds Bognanno full-throated, wild and free.