It’s no great revelation that modern hard rock has lost so much of the edge it claims to still have, and when considering the bands being pushed as its greatest assets, it doesn’t take much further thought to deduce why. Of course there’s Greta Van Fleet who are currently keeping the door open for swathes of other plastic copycats of classic rock bands to come swanning in (and when it inevitably happens, don’t even pretend to be surprised), but there’s also the straightforward, no-nonsense radio-rock prioritising clean, stylish pablum to neuter themselves in return for success. And with all that in mind, it produces a real sinking feeling about Badflower given their current position as upstarts on the rise within the scene. Their rise has appeared remarkably similar to Greta Van Fleet’s, where a handful of okay EPs has preluded a meteoric single to solidify their next-big-thing status, but given that their debut full-length is being released on a partnership between Big Machine, who are primarily known for country music, and the label of menswear design John Varvatos, it makes it difficult to know what Badflower are hoping to achieve (not to mention making it far too easy to turn any fashionability they display into a cynical punchline).
In truth though, OK, I’m Sick is actually significantly more interesting than many would initially give it credit for. For once, this is a new hard rock band that actually endeavour to make themselves sound interesting and switched-on, and through a sound that combines a distinctly classic sensibility with the grandeur and theatricality of, of all things, a band like My Chemical Romance, Badflower do justice to the concept of modern rock in a way so many of their predecessors have utterly failed at. It’s certainly not perfect and occasionally tries to do too much for its own good, but when it really connects, OK, I’m Sick is the shot in the arm that’s been so desperately needed in this scene for a long time.
It really only takes the most brief of comparisons to see how Badflower are so vastly superior to their ‘competition’, too, particularly in their knack for going down paths that feel less stock and take in more incendiary, spontaneous spikes. That’s not always the case, mind, and it feels like it happens enough to justify cutting down OK, I’m Sick to trim back some of the excess weight that’s only dragging it down more than necessary. It’s most prominent in tracks like 24 and Murder Games that lack the same dynamism as some of the other cuts here, and with the blemish-free production that doesn’t quite click for a solid portion of what’s here, it leads to an album whose ambition is prevalent, but the execution of it is a bit too bloated to consistently connect. That said, there’s a wiry, electrified quality to Badflower at their best that lands an erraticism that can be genuinely exhilarating; maybe it’s the immediate expectation of any new hard rock falling into the plodding, mid-paced doldrums that only get more tiresome with every attempt, but there’s real excitement behind the shapeshifting progressions and Josh Katz’s ductile convulsions on x ANA x and Girlfriend. Alongside an impressive variety of sonic reference points that reaches as far as The Black Parade-era MCR on The Jester and Promise Me and slithering garage-rock on Die, the general foundation that OK, I’m Sick is built upon reaches some formidable high points right out of the gate.
It’s the writing that’s Badflower’s main weapon though, and if you’re looking for what really pushes them over the top and establishes a band currently head and shoulders above so many in their scene, it’s right here. In what is ostensibly a mainstream rock album, there’s some dark ground touched upon here, like a young girl’s abuse at the hands of her paedophilic father on Daddy or the deplorable state of the meat and dairy industries on Murder Games. Badflower clearly aren’t censoring themselves for radio play or watering down their message, and it’s a refreshing turn from how homogeneous and dreary so much modern hard rock can be, especially when they take a more personal pivot and highlight how important the nonchalance of the title is, bringing attention to the problems that afflict so many that have either morphed into a normal perception of life, or are just being outright ignored when something clearly needs to be done. And again, it’s not a diluted portrayal either; x ANA x replicates the spaced-out neuroticism of needing drugs simply to regulate one’s mood; Ghost is a surprisingly graphic and purging look into depression and self-harm; and Girlfriend tackles an unhealthy, violent attitude towards women that becomes exacerbated by porn and online dating. Nothing feels written out of stylistic desire or for the sake of cultivating a woke image that’s never built on, and for Badflower to be bringing that sort of dedication and incisiveness to the fold on their first proper outing really does a lot for them.
Indeed, OK, I’m Sick is uncharacteristically strong pretty much across the board for this genre, scrapping the dull tropes and affixing an alternative edge that brings so much more character and weight. It’s definitely a bit long and unwieldy in spots, but they’re the natural tribulations of a debut album that, really, don’t come up here nearly as much as they have with others in the same position. And that really is a good sign for Badflower going forward, especially if they’re going into such a notoriously mechanised scene as this and bringing a potentially serious shake-up on their first time around. Off this evidence, if there’s a band that desperately deserve to succeed and catalyse some real change more than any other, Badflower would be it.
For fans of: Highly Suspect, Royal Blood, Dorothy
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘OK, I’m Sick’ by Badflower is out now on John Varvatos Records / Big Machine Records.