Even before reinventing her band as a solo operation in 2020, Alicia Bognanno wrote, composed, produced, and mixed every Bully record herself. That’s on top of singing and shredding. In control behind the microphone and at the boards, Bognanno cultivated a raw alt-rock revivalism. Her stunning, capacious Nashville rasp—the main event—screamed and soared above her crisp, clean instrumentals. Early press for Bully touted her apprenticeship to Steve Albini, suggesting, credibly, that she might be his heir apparent as a producer.

So why, on Lucky for You, Bully’s fourth studio album, does Bognanno cede so much control to Nashville producer JT Daly? Though Bognanno recorded some of her own guitars and vocals for this album, and was involved in its production and mixing, Daly is credited as the album’s sole producer and mixer. He’s Grammy-nominated for engineering, but acquits himself poorly here. Tinny drums, flatulent bass, an indistinct slurry of guitars—not one of the instrumentals on this album is up to Bognanno’s peerless snuff. Muddy mixing can’t entirely sink her compositions—lead single “Days Move Slow” is among the best rock songs of the year—but several other tracks take on water. It’s heart-wrenching to imagine how much better these songs would be, how much more worthy of showcasing Bognanno’s maturation as an artist, had she presided solely over production.

Lucky for You shifts Bully’s sound into the territory of radio-friendly Y2K pop-rock pastiche lately made wildly popular by artists like Olivia Rodrigo and beabadoobee. It’s not Bognanno’s traditional milieu—which could account for her choice to pass the reins to another producer—but her performances stun nonetheless. The snarling “Hard to Love” is a highlight, recalling the Breeders and featuring an absolute sledgehammer drop of a chorus. “How Will I Know” is a grunge-lite flip of the question made famous by Whitney Houston, focusing, instead of infatuation, on the nearness of death. “If you go before I go, send me a sign,” Bognanno sings, before wondering if she’ll even be capable of receiving it: “How will I know, how will I know, how will I know?”

Bognanno wrote the best track on the album, “Days Move Slow,” while grieving her beloved dog, Mezzi. From the anhedonia of grief, she pulls something kinetic and insistent. She draws out each word of the title—daaaaays move slooooooow—as though pulling on a rubber band, only to let go and sting the listener with the realization that she’s singing about death, with direct references to the afterlife, to belief in God, to bouquets on graves. It may be the best mismatch of tone and content since “Dancing on My Own,” and it marks a new pinnacle for Bognanno.

Not every moment on Lucky for You is this successful. Some, like the pat “Change Your Mind,” dwell too much in cliché: “All I wanted was to feel wanted.” Others, like the bold and novel “A Love Profound,” experiment with vocal stylings new for Bognanno, but are undermined by swampy mixing. “Lose You,” a collaboration with Soccer Mommy, borrows lyrical motifs from Color Theory—“the shades of blue that remind me of you”—and winds up feeling like an outtake from that album.

The final two songs, “Ms. America” and “All This Noise,” make for a fascinating couplet. Both meditate on the state of the union, and each locks into a single emotional register: “Ms. America” is a downbeat grief spiral; “All This Noise” is a screaming punk rager in which Bognanno name-checks polar bears and AR-15s before bellowing “My body is not your choice!” Ultimately, though, “Ms. America” is more convincing, and heartbreaking. Bognanno considers whether or not to have children, and finally, quietly, decides, “I don’t want to teach a kid to fight.” It feels like an honest corrective to blistering protest diatribes, one that grieves for the fallen rather than charging into the next battle.

It’s this kind of lyrical introspection and emotional complexity that drew listeners to Bully’s debut, Feels Like, eight years ago. Bognanno preserves much of what made her earlier records great on Lucky for You, and pushes herself with some novel experimentation. Still, no one can produce her better than she can produce herself.

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Bully: Lucky for You