Review Summary: I wanna give a shit again
At the insane, almost dangerously communal Andrew Jackson Jihad gig I went to, Sean Bonnette gave a thirty-song performance worthy of the greatest before laying down the simple ethos behind his songs. “This is a song I wrote while I was really bummed and also really stoked,” he said of Can’t Maintain
’s “Truckers are the Blood,” before strumming it, a song with chords more major than the crowd it was played to, a song burdened with the weight of lyrics bordered between serious and stupid as fu
ck. Hats off to Bonnette for analysing himself as well as he does in his songs, because that’s exactly what Andrew Jackson Jihad are: the band who you think of as the wackiest bastards on the planet as you ready yourself to weep to their song.
I foolishly didn’t trust them to pull off songs like “Fucc The Devil” and "Sorry Bro" when I read their titles and stared aghast at their internet slang. And those are the best songs of Knife Man
, both stepping back and forth on that blurry line of Bonnette’s that circles some ugly drain of humour, sarcasm and full-on seriousness. “Fucc The Devil” starts with his proclamation that he’s physically going to take the devil in his mouth, but ends with the quite serious words of a man who, through social work and all, has had enough: “the things that I have seen are turning me into a shi
tty human being.” So yeah, you can believe Bonnette hitting both ends of the spectrum: psyched enough to physically take his demons and ruin them (and what a hilarious turn of phrase), but just as hopelessly aware of being ruined for life. And in “Sorry Bro” the band are once again trying to figure everything out for themselves through their song: Bonnette might call his music one thing and then another, and in this song he travels between two opposites, unsure of whether to root for his opposite or loathe them completely.
We’ve seen Andrew Jackson Jihad cover issues like bipolar professors throughout their career, and whether or not Knife Man
is overproduced or over-orchestrated, it carries the same happy-sad belief: a song can be universalised if it dares to be absolutely everything. The songs on Knife Man
try to be as expansively social as they are personal, as much about breakup as they are about the disturbing way humans fu
ck themselves up. “Sad Songs” is whiny and neurotic because everyone who listens to it is. That’s Andrew Jackson Jihad through and through, Bonnette too transparent to bother renaming himself properly (“who fu
ckin’ gives a rat’s ass Steve, just write a love song!”). By this point, though, there’s an obviousness to why everyone arrives at an Andrew Jackson Jihad gig and screams a line like this- the pain is kinda communal- and in that sense, Knife Man
could, under different circumstances, become one of the great American albums, even as the duo veer further away from being purists in folk or punk. It takes a lot to write a song that bares its soul as well as these ones- drawing on anything from Bonnette’s masturbation habits to his dark dirty rifle fetishes- but it takes something a little more special to connect your personal pain so politically as Knife Man
does. Masturbator and general helpless case Bonnette may be after a break up, yes, but “Zombies by The Cranberries by Andrew Jackson Jihad” recognises how all too generally helpless the homeless are too. “People II 2” makes depression a national theme, referencing prescription pills and Hustler subscriptions. Bonnette makes the honest pain his country keeps to itself something like a huge news bulletin on Knife Man
, something inescapable whether it's just kinda lame (the breakup in “Distance”) or slapstick (the man getting hit by a car in “People II 2”). Knife Man
is so very communal, so very universal, but it should be such a tortuous listen. Shouldn’t it?
And that’s just what’s so incredible about this band, now as good as they’ll ever be on their fourth record. Better musicians than Andrew Jackson Jihad have tried to say the many simple things they have said- Bob Dylan has written breakup albums that made us cry, but rarely think about the world beyond his divorce. Funnier people have tried to tell a better joke than “sorry guys, here’s a solo,” a line that could stick out like a musical parody in a Flight of the Conchords song. But who even knows when this band are joking? It’s up to us to decide if their stupid pop culture references are going to hit home or not (“I used to be a dead guy / now I’m a fu
cking jedi!”) and it’s up to us to work out whether or not “No One” is just some horrible, four minute long piss-take. On stage it made perfect sense: Sean and Ben, a bantering duo like any other, were laughing and grinning as their fans chanted back “rejoice this world will tear you to shreds!” as if on prozac. This is simply Andrew Jackson Jihad, joyously, tragically themselves, even when they absolutely aren’t. Bummed and bloody stoked.
Oh, and let’s not forget the plagiarism. Andrew Jackson Jihad, singing other people’s songs as if we’re hearing them for the first time. “We’re the kids in America!” isn’t Bonnette’s line. “When the Saints Come Marching In” isn’t his song. But damn if it isn’t his moment. Damn.