AJJ released The Bible 2 following a change of name from Andrew Jackson Jihad; partly as they have had second thoughts about referencing “Jihad” in their name, and partly because they have had second thoughts about referencing “Andrew Jackson” in their name. Much as this entire change is one heck of a U-turn, it’s an entirely understandable decision for a band as political and thoughtful as AJJ are, and it’s difficult to see a band with such a nice image being hated on with any of the vitriol that some responded with online. Onwards, this name change was followed by the release of the song Now That I’m At The Top of My Game (not on this album), which featured lyrics telling of a personal celebration of triumph over depression. The intelligent, passionate, yet principally straight-forward lyricism on this song has always been a major draw to the band but, unfortunately, is something The Bible 2 lacks.
One point of contention is the direction the band have been moving in musically, with styles which have given rise to some of AJJ’s most effective songs in the past being largely omitted in The Bible 2. Previously these have often been more folky, stripped-down Pat The Bunny or Crywank-esque tunes (e.g. Dipping Things in Stuff) or emotional surges pushed forward by punk instrumentals (Heartilation), but both of these aspects of AJJ’s previous sound, as was also the case with the preceding album Christmas Island, take much smaller roles in The Bible 2. These sounds are replaced with production more typical of a lo-fi indie album, which goes against what one might expect (or indeed want) from the folk-punk band, and is generally to the detriment of what emotive power the shorter songs on the album could carry.
The centrepieces of the album are the two longer tracks; No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread and Small Red Boy. The latter of these is particularly ambitious, making reference to earlier songs and incorporating built-up themes of childhood into a relatively lengthy symbolic tale towards the end of the album. The listener wants this to feel like Big Bird from the album Knife Man – from the start of that song “I’m afraid of the way that I live my life, I’m afraid of the way I don’t / I’m afraid of the things that I want to do, but I won’t” the listener is taken in by these simple yet polysemous lyrics, immersed into Sean Bonnette’s mind, and taken for a journey which provides a grand and thought-provoking end to that album. This is exactly what has been attempted here with Small Red Boy, but this time round AJJ have been far less successful. Here, the story of the child swallowing the narrator and the looser descriptions of how he “Learned about the tragedy of all of us” are bizarre – which is fine in itself – but stray too far into the figurative, and these abstract lyrics are not what the band do best; the end result being that the Small Red Boy falls short of having the impact it should do.
It’s absurd to write The Bible 2 off entirely, in truth it’s a divisive album made or broken by the listener’s personal preferences. There are some high-points; well-placed clever lyrics like “If I stay in bed long enough / they’ll go to church without me” are scattered throughout, the song Junkie Church with its catchy melancholy chorus of “I love you cause I love you cause I can” is a great track, and the albums second-longest song No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread is near-irrefutably poignant. There will also certainly be some people who can follow AJJ’s journey in this album from start to finish, loving more than just the few exceptional lines here and there. For these people, the album will mark an exciting change in artistic direction, and the incorporation of both the two longer track’s choruses into the closing lines of Small Red Boy “No more shame, no more fear, no more dread / I am, I am, I am, I am the truth” will rank amongst the most beautiful and anthemic the band have ever produced. But, most likely, these people will be few and far between. Ultimately, AJJ haven’t played to their strengths on this record, and have released an album with a weaker sound, full of disappointing and unremarkable songs.