Formed as a plaything between songwriters Kevin Devine and Andy Hull while on tour ten years ago, Bad Books quickly released two albums of fuzzy indie rock that saw the duo let their hair down from their sometimes heavy day jobs. Combining the best of Manchester Orchestra’s muscular machine with Devine’s wit and melodic flourishes, the first two Bad Books are peppered with bona fide jams that brim with carefree abandon.
Over seven years since Bad Books II, out of the ether, comes instalment III. It’s an altogether different affair, shaped by Hull’s soundtrack work and Devine having done the power-pop thing on his last two records. III is a collection of pared back acoustics with occasional warbles of keys and atmospheric guitar from Hull’s bloodrider Robert McDowell. While not as immediate or fun as their first crusade, it reflects where both songwriters are at. The good news is the melodies still catch in the brain, and the Devine/Hull harmony is as soothing as ever. ‘I Wrote It Down For You’, an old Devine track, benefits from the added texture afforded by his bandmates here, and ‘I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank You’ tracks Kevin’s bewilderment upon becoming a father, something that also defined Manchester Orchestra’s last LP. The bonhomie between the bands is what makes Bad Books work, their easy camaraderie evident in how effortlessly they bounce off one another.
‘Myths Made Plain’ is the song that feels most co-created, and indeed comes closest to the quirky indie that made the I and II so likeable. In other places, like the Hull-penned ‘Lake House’, it can feel like two best friends playing on each other's songs rather than crafting them together.
You probably won’t be sticking this one at parties, and placed next to the first two Bad Books LPs it’s an odd fit. However, as part of Devine and Hull’s catalogue of songwriting spanning countless project, it’s a worthy addition to the canon.