by EJ Coleman
Late last February, cult classic folk punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad changed their name to AJJ, the nickname fans had been using for them for years. They officially made the change because they don’t want to be disrespectful to Muslims–and Andrew Jackson really was a terrible person. As their first album officially under the new moniker, The Bible 2 is a turning point for the band. Will more than the name change? Are they an entirely different band? Or is this the same music under a new name?
Good news: It is both all and none of these things.
The Bible 2 is somehow the least cohesive blending of new and old ideas ever put in album form. True to form, AJJ’s lyrics remain existential and at times absurd discussions of humanity, and their acoustic guitar driven anthems return in songs like “White Worms” and “My Brain is a Human Body”, but The Bible 2 is everything “classic” about AJJ to the nth degree. They acknowledge the limits they’ve learned from their twelve year career and then completely blow past them like the musical equivalent of doing eighty in a school zone.
I never fully understand AJJ songs unless I am reading the lyrics and listening to the song at the same time, and, I have to be honest, even then sometimes I still don’t get it (“Terrifyer”? What?). In the wise words of AJJ themselves, sometimes their songs feel like they “just handed you a giant load of gibberish,” and it takes a few listens to not only comprehend the words, but also understand the song as a whole and how the lyrics connect with the music. Here is one constant amidst the random reverb and cello playing—there will always at least be this slight lack of understanding at the onset. Eventually every lyric comes to the clarity that some have immediately, like “I’m a hallucination of myself at 3 years old” from “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye”, although sometimes they take a little more effort to get to.
“When I’m A Dead Boy” is the most Andrew Jackson Jihad of the album with its simple guitar and lyrical references to death, skateboarding, and Phoenix. As the last song on the album, it is a parting message that after all the genuinely weird stuff (both in general and for AJJ). There’s no need to worry too much, because there will always be the same AJJ at the heart of everything they do, no matter how mindful or mature they get.
Perhaps the best song on the album is “Small Red Boy”, a story that at first is a little intimidating and worrisome but eventually draws you into the life of a man who finds a baby demon in his chest, cuts him out, raises him as his own child, and then eventually becomes a small red boy himself. Even I was skeptical at the start, both because I’m not a big fan of most long, exclusively narrative ballads, and because the whole “antichrist and demonology imagery” thing gets old after a while. I think it was around the reference to D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, a book I pretty much ate, slept, and breathed as a kid, that I was hooked. By the time it got to the moral of the story in “I became forgiveness / I transformed into the closure that I lost / When I learned about the tragedy of all of us”, I felt as though I was the one with the small red boy inside me the entire time, or that maybe even that I was the small red boy, in a very magical and scary way.
Before I got this far, my favorite song had been “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread” for its similarity and growth from “No More Tears” off their second album, as well as its line, “When something I hold dear is out to hurt me / I kick that feeble dream and whisper something like a prayer”. I was fully ready to dedicate at least two paragraphs to how good I thought it was until I heard the end of “Small Red Boy” where it repeats the mantras of both songs (“No more shame, no more fear, no more dread! / I am, I am, I am, I am the truth”) and the idea of both those mantras and the album was fully realized.
This album is eclectic, but it does eclectic very well. While the genre changes every other song and the lyrics span tiny demons growing in your chest to possibly an ornithologist who murdered an Olympic gold winning wrestler (this is completely serious, read the comments on this), something about this album works on a basic level. If The Bible 2 were a machine (and I don’t mean to sound reductive, comparing a creative output to something so formulaic) it would be a mess of cogs and gears made of everything from plastic to dented steel to handcarved black cherry wood that are different sizes with different teeth and somehow mesh together perfectly. There are layers to understanding every aspect of this album, but it is well worth the time to peel them back one at a time and learn what’s inside, because it’s a very good place to start.