When four–piece rock band Badflower burst onto the music scene in 2015 with debut single “Soap,” it seemed as if they would make their place in the blues rock revival. Between the heavy guitar riffs and the way Josh Katz yelled "Sometimes I cannot be respectable," the band would fit in just fine among acts like Black Pistol Fire, Greta Van Fleet, and . That hard–rocking image was cemented with 2016 EP Temper, which NYLON Magazine “Good, old–fashioned rock n’ roll.” Three years later, debut LP OK, I’M SICK, released Feb. 22, takes the band in a new direction—a good one—with the introspective and emotional lyrics telling a much more mature story than the average debut.
At first glance, OK, I’M SICK looks like an exercise in edginess: The cover art depicts Katz bleeding from his mouth, his eyes covered by the album title, and the song titles within, from “x ANA x” to “Die” and “Murder Games,” don’t exactly seem like, well, an inspired release. The first two tracks give a shallow insight into the album as a whole, first with Katz asking the listener "Hey, wanna see what happens when I mix Xanax, blow, and a MacBook Pro?" in opening track "x ANA x," and proposing a new question in "The Jester:" "Is every last soul just fucking me over?" Acoustically, these two tracks are more reminiscent of pop punk acts like than the harder rock on which they made their fame.
OK, I'M SICK doesn't truly begin to take form until the third track and single "Ghost," which Katz being about his struggle with panic disorder. "Ghost" is less a rock or punk track and more of an intimate story told by Katz to the listener, beginning with vocals and one light guitar and building with subtlety into an impassioned final chorus and final acapella line.
Just as it seems like the album will focus solely on Katz's mental health, "We're in Love" takes the album in yet another direction as the narrator describes their ambivalence over a same–sex relationship. The first part of the track, with arpeggiated synth notes and whispered vocals, reads like a male outtake of Dirty Computer, at least until the angry backing vocals come in—repeated shouts of "Lights out!" The rest of the album follows a similar path, never quite settling on one sound or topic. "Promise Me" sounds eerily familiar, reminiscent of some pop punk ballad but never quite resembling one particular band, while "Daddy" sounds like if The Killers wrote "Lean On Sheena." The slow, stripped–down, and self–reflective "24" and "Heroin" are followed by political protest song "Die," whose hard rock sound and scathing lyrics wouldn't be out of place on a grandson album.
"Murder Games" is the easy low point of the album. Following "Die," it continues the political thread but takes a ham–fisted (no pun intended) look at the meat and dairy industry. Songs like "Behind the Mask" by Goldfinger and "Human(e) Meat" by Propaghandi show that it's possible to sing about animal rights without wailing "Why, father? Why, father? / Why bother? Why murder?" repeatedly. Fortunately, "Murder Games" is followed by one of the best songs and the closest thing to a "return to form" that Badflower has: "Girlfriend." Telling the story of an online stalker, "Girlfriend" alternates between a hard rock chorus and unhinged, almost hip–hop verses. This leads directly into "Wide Eyes," a slow and intense rock song about the loss of innocence following a relationship. Finally, the album closes with "Cry," a six–and–a–half minute ballad that brings the album full circle back to Katz's mental health.
It would be expected, given that "Soap" and Temper made Badflower a household name in the blues and garage rock worlds, that their debut LP would be a straightforward rock album full of Billboard–ready riffs and fist–pumping beats, with the more mature work coming three or four LPs down the line. Instead, they delivered a mature look at both Katz's personal demons and wider issues, all while spanning the full length of the . In an the week before OK I'M SICK was released, Katz addressed this, saying "I want to make it clear, once again, we're not a rock band. We're not bringing rock back. You can try to categorize us, but we're gonna continue making art however we please without intervention." One thing remains clear: Whether hard rock or a ballad, whatever art Badflower makes going forward will be worth a listen.