The Bad Ends: The Power And The Glory [Album Review]

The Bad Ends
The Power And The Glory
New West Records [2023]

According to their bio, three of the guys in this so-called Athens, GA super-group formed while they were picking up their kids from school, or something like that. In a music town best known as the breeding ground for R.E.M., as well as the B-52’s, Widespread Panic, Pylon, and one of my long-time favorites the Vigilantes of Love, your babysitter’s dad and mom are probably both in a band. As they tell it, Mike Mantione of the Athens-cult favorite band Five Eight, and guitarist Christian Lopez, and bassist Dave Domizi were hanging out, and Mantione mentioned he might want to record a solo album with producer friend Geoff Melkonian. One thing led to another, and they invited a drummer to come by for a jam, who just happened to be Bill Berry, the founding member of R.E.M. who left the band after experiencing a brain aneurysm on stage, and before they knew it they were a band.

The band’s first single, “All Your Friends Are Dying,” comes right out the alternative Southern rock groove that epitomized early R.E.M., that still feels fresh and alive to these ears, their guitars all a jangle against the solid back beat of the drums. The lyrics are a warning to a friend who missed an all-star tribute on the 50th anniversary of the band Big Star’s #1 Record in Athens in 2022, that some of us are reaching an age where it’s use it or lose it, not to mention the fact that we’re losing older rock stars at an alarming pace (RIP David Crosby and Tom Verlaine). Other song highlights, “Mile Marker 29,” “Thanksgiving 1915,” and “Honestly,” all tap that timeless mix of ringing guitar sounds, a compelling melodic hook and a lyric that taps real human emotions, and beat that’s, well, unbeatable.

The remaining five tracks mix things up a little. “Little Black Cloud” is a sad acoustic ballad, with a pit of pedal steel Americana added to the guitar and mandolin picking from Drive-By Truckers’ John Neff. The delicate instrumental “Ode to Jose” benefits from string orchestration by Berry, a reminder that he contributed lots of musical ideas to R.E.M., not the typical drummer just interested in pounding out the beats. The grinding noisy “Ballad of Satan’s Bride” feels like a bit of a miss-fire, but it’s the only thing here I tend to skip on repeat listens. “Left to Be Found” and the set closer “New York Murder-Suicide,” and like other songs here look at some of the darker aspects of life, things perhaps that folk might think about as they age and face the difficulties of friendships that have ended, challenging illness, and the hard decisions that come to us all eventually.

All of which means The Bad Ends have struck a smart balance with this debut release, writing songs about things their likely aging audience are going to care about, and still, in the face of the challenges that mount up in this life, delivering a set of rocking anthems to remind the world, we ain’t dead yet.

“All Your Friends Are Dying” / “Mile Marker 29” / “Thanksgiving 2019”

R.E.M. / The dB’s / Mitch Easter’s Let’s Active

Official Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | New West Records

Brian Q. Newcomb

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