Album Review: The Bad Ends – The Power And The Glory

Athens GA supergroup launches with an album strong enough to tempt even R.E.M.'s Bill Berry out of retirement

Let’s get something out of the way. Yes, Bill Berry is in The Bad Ends. The Athens indie rock outfit marks the first official gig for the R.E.M. drummer since 1997 and any fan of quality drumming will be delighted to hear those signature jittery beats back in action.

‘Mile Marker 29’ – the opening track of the quintet’s debut album ­­– doesn’t just sound like Green-era R.E.M., it sounds like something Stipe & Co. accidentally let slip through the cracks. Heck, even the title sounds like an R.E.M. song title. Most notably, Berry’s drumming sounds positively ecstatic, like he’s spent the last 30 years with his arms tied behind his back and is only now being released. That might be projection but it’s convincing either way.

The Bad Ends - "Mile Marker 29" [Official Audio]

That’s not to suggest that The Bad Ends are cosplaying as R.E.M. If anything, any similarities feel more a result of both bands being born out of the same Athens, Georgia scene. Not only do The Bad Ends boast a member of one Athens institution in Berry, but the band is also fronted by Mike Mantione of Five Eights, a band who left a notable dent on the local scene with a run of great records in the 90s and one ridiculously great record in the 00s (2004’s self-titled Five Eight).

The Bad Ends - "All Your Friends Are Dying" [Official Video]

That underheard 00s highpoint offers a hint as to what lies in wait on The Bad Ends’ debut. There’s a southern twang, the guitars make their presence felt and Mantione’s lyrics still feel like personal exorcisms; even when he’s singing about the ecstasy of seeing Big Star and The Glands, it’s still haunted by absence and personal conflicts. The weariness of ‘Left To Be Found’ feels almost insurmountable, heavy enough to drag you down into it.

The Bad Ends - "Thanksgiving 1915" [Official Music Video]

Absence and loss loom large over The Power And The Glory. Mantione ends ‘Left To Be Found’ despairing over his own absence, the rollicking and repentant ‘Thanksgiving 1915’ winds up with a dedication to “the ones you left behind”, while the incendiary ‘Ballad Of Satan’s Bride’ tells of a grief so acute it sends the sufferer right into the arms of the devil himself.

There are traces not just of R.E.M. and Five Eights throughout The Power And The Glory but of many more Athens compatriots, like The Bad Ends are a reservoir of the city’s musical history. The pop hooks of Matthew Sweet, the literate rustic rock of The Mendoza Line, the streamlined indie of The Glands, the rattling jangle of neighbours Guadalcanal Diary, even a little of Drive-By Truckers’ twang. It all feeds into a melodic wallop of a record and hopefully just the first page of a new chapter. The Bad Ends are off to a great start.

The Power And The Glory by The Bad Ends is out now to stream and buy via New West Records