Like the schizophrenic Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, there’s always been that other side to Kevin Devine that has never come out swinging. With the opening track ‘Cotton Crush’ from his 2005 album Split The Country, Split The Streets, Devine showed that he has the attentive aggression of Kurt Cobain, complimented by the timid nature of Elliott Smith. Devine has used the simultaneous release of Bulldozer and Bubblegum as a perfectly set platform to showcase these two sides and expand on them, with production provided by the infamously elusive Jesse Lacey (Brand New) and backing from Goddamn Band members Mike Fadem (drums) and Mike Strandberg (guitar).
‘Nobel Prize’ is a feral, politically charged opener which summarises the nature of Bubblegum in less than three minutes. With Devine expressing his disgust with the American government’s use of drone warfare, he paints a dystopian view of the future with his most graphic lyrics to date, “once we’ve poisoned all the water, once we’ve blackened out the air, we’ll finish murdering each other, fair is fair”. Jesse Lacey’s production aids the intimacy of the first verse on ‘Private First Class’, which seamlessly switches between an intimate acoustic guitar and an unbounded riff heavy instrumental section, allowing Devine to bare his teeth and address the unjust conviction of whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Soaring between different time signatures, ‘Fiscal Cliff’ is like a kick in the teeth. The Nirvana-esque chorus counteracts the triplet-heavy verses where Devine vents his frustration towards the recent decline in government spending, but an increase in taxes. With ‘Redbird’, we see Devine experimenting more with the texture of his songs and from the delicate opening, we hear a lot of intricate additional guitar work as well as accompanying soundscapes. This marks perhaps Devine’s most abstract song, with his most abstract lyrics to date. Known for his careful attention to detail, with ‘Redbird’ he delivers short lyrical motifs in the verses with “breathing water, blood & iron in my teeth, safe word “redbird”, nothing’s working. Why, oh why?”.
The two versions of ‘She Can See Me’ (appearing on Bulldozer and Bubblegum) will polarise fans at first, but both songs fit perfectly on each album and feel like a strong representation of both genres. ‘I Don’t Care About Your Band’ is perhaps the most intriguing song on the album, despite being strictly acoustic. The song’s statement on the current climate of music and the apathetic sentiment towards it makes it a better fit for this album.
Not only is Bubblegum an intellectual punk rock record and one of Devine’s most exciting outputs to date, but it’s also a lyrical wake up call following the state of the recent political climate. Emphasising his sheer discontent with his primal vocal delivery and aggressive drums, the next chapter in Kevin Devine’s career is going to be his most interesting to date.