BB Stevens – Not My Monkeys

 BB Stevens – Not My Monkeys

BB Stevens – Not My Monkeys – EP Review

As the new record from BB Stevens started up with “GoodbiBaby,” it sounded like the man had found the perfect space in between the flair of an artist like Elvis, the wildness of a bizzare cat like Tom Waits, and the performance-minded attributes of someone like Nick Cave.  There’s more in the mix too if you’re factoring in things like the colorful backing vocals and the impressive instrumentation that comes along with this opening number…but given that no single comparison really covers it all, I’ll leave the rest for you to draw your own conclusions with.  “GoodbiBaby” certainly leans more towards the Rock genre than any of the artists I listed, so there’s that.  It’s hard to say how this track is gonna be received by the ol’ general public out there if I’m being honest with ya.  There’s no doubt that Stevens comes armed with a resume that highlights his skillset – he’s composed/produced songs for Madonna of all people – and clearly you don’t reach those kind of extraordinary heights without at least a little know-how.  You can hear the man knows what he’s doing…I don’t think anyone’s really going to dispute that – all the right pieces are in place on “GoodbiBaby,” so it really comes down mainly to personal preference from there.  I have no qualms about saying that “GoodbiBaby” ain’t for me…but that has nothing to do with the quality of what you’ll hear; it’s just not my style of tune – that doesn’t mean it won’t be yours.  I really do the Spanish-style guitar that comes into this opening track, seemingly out of nowhere – and I felt like the backing vocals really added to it as well.  And BB is great in performing the lead too – don’t get me wrong…it’s just a matter of what gels with ya and what doesn’t when it comes to what we like and what we love in listening to music.  I’m never afraid of giving my opinion, that’s what us critics do.  If you’re asking me what the strengths of “GoodbiBaby” are beyond what I’ve listed so far, I’d readily tell ya they exist mainly in the verses…I think the chorus pales in comparison, and the hooks are too much.  I can appreciate composition and execution even if I don’t love what I’m hearing in a stylistic sense – to me, I feel like we’ve heard a ton of tunes out there from one side of music’s history straight through to the other than incorporate something similar to what you’ll hear in the chorus of this first track.  That kind of familiarity can certainly be a good thing of course, but it can potentially work against you too.

With a “3, 1, 4, 2” count in that absolutely made me chuckle as “Lucifer’s Rain” began…again, don’t get my words twisted – there’s definitely something here in the music BB Stevens makes.  There’s no doubt that he’s borrowing a lot from what’s been tried, tested, and true throughout the evolution of music and within the Rock genre from the golden age on up, but he’s got this like…fuck…it’s like a Reverend Horton Heat-like level of unpredictability that comes along with the way he makes his tunes that does indeed give it a uniqueness that should spark some interest with those that dig songs that ain’t all that normal.  Which is me – I’m one of those people.  We’re in the Rockabilly vibe here on “Lucifer’s Rain,” which admittedly, still isn’t a type of music you’re gonna regularly find on my playlists typically, but y’all know me…I can usually find something to appreciate in just about everything I listen to on some level.  So for myself, a lot of what I like about “Lucifer’s Rain” would come down to the powerful degree of confidence you can hear Stevens performs with…like…this dude is INTO IT, you feel me?  I think anytime you’re rockin’ with this kind of commitment, you give everyone a chance to get onboard.  Lyrically, he’s working with some very smart ideas on this tune as well, which not only take you into biblical verses, but ties them into the world we’re living in today…and quite likely, not in the way you’d expect to find that happening, which I dig.  The drums are of course irresistibly cool…the guitar is brilliant, I love the tone, the technique, and the skills you’ll find there, right up to and including the harmonics you’ll find being played…there’s really a whole lot of kickassery goin’ on here if you’re really paying attention to it all.  I would charge that once again, it’s the verses that hold my interest so much more than the chorus does, but I ain’t denying that what he’s got in-store for ya on “Lucifer’s Rain” has plenty of appeal in each part.

Musically, I felt like “Spirit Be Gone!” was going to appeal to me more than the opening tracks did, and I was ultimately proven to be right about that.  I don’t know that I’d go quite as far as to say it’s ‘my thing’ so much as it’s closer to whatever that might be than the first two cuts were.  In any event, it made sense that what sparked my interest melodically from the get-go made “Spirit Be Gone!” a solid candidate to be the single from this record, and lo & behold, it is!  Completely with visual representation in a lyric video supporting it – there’s lots I love about this song from sight to sound.  I’m not usually one to comment a whole lot on videos and whatnot, mainly because that’s not really what I’m here to do – but I really liked what BB has got paired with his song for this one with the old black & white footage and a font that looks like it came right outta that era where Horror movies drew their inspiration from comic books.  Anyhow.  I felt like it didn’t take too many spins at all for “Spirit Be Gone!” to grow on me – and in that respect, it proves to be the right choice as a single.  If I was more on the fence previously about whether or not I’d find a gateway into BB’s music on a personal level, “Spirit Be Gone!” provides the answer – I can get behind this track.  I think the most I questioned this track was at the very start as the vocals began, but once the music filled in behind Stevens, I didn’t find myself resisting it any longer.  So for reference, that’s about thirty-seconds in…just past that point, I felt like “Spirit Be Gone!” shifts from good to great and BB’s off and rolling with a track that works out fantastically well for him.  Not only are the verses in this track as good as the rest have been on this record so far, but for me, the chorus was the most notable spot where he’d raised the stakes and created something more universally accessible.  Ultimately, he’s really achieved something special with this track in the sense that he’s changed-up the whole vibe and style of his music on this record, while still creating something cohesive.  Credit where credit is due y’all, I’m nothing but fair – that’s no easy accomplishment, and he nailed it.

Not My Monkeys continues with “Mercy Mercy,” which probably contains my favorite performance by the main man at the microphone – I felt like BB sung the living daylights outta this one.  I love that raspy growl-like grittiness you can hear in vocals the more he gets into the moment, and “Mercy Mercy” is full of that good stuff.  Ultimately, I gotta go back to that previous assessment where I’ll tell ya that it’s gonna be the verses that likely hold the most engaging material…BB’s not really pushing the boundaries too much creatively when it comes to the hooks of his chorus, and he might have to reckon with that.  I ain’t denying that the choruses he creates could potentially have a large degree of appeal to some folks out there listening – sure they could – all I’m saying is that where you find him at his most innovative & creative is always within the verses he’s writing, simple and plain.  If you wanna dispute that, I’d love to hear the argument…because I don’t really think there could be one.  When it comes to the hooks, he’s largely drawing on repetition, which can be effective, yes – but by definition, it can’t allow for the opportunity of creativity nearly as much, see what I’m saying?  The chorus of “Mercy Mercy” has the added benefits of the energy being raised and the backing vocals sparking some additional appeal to it, again, I’m not disputing that – but if you’re telling me that the verses aren’t the main draw to a song like this, I’ll be the first in line to push back on that.  The ability for BB’s lyricism to shine in the verses alone would convince me I’m right, never mind the sincerely impressive way he sings them…this dude uses a stellar selection of words to communicate his ideas, and his performance-minded approach to singing them definitely makes all the difference.  On the bright side of this particular case in “Mercy Mercy,” we actually get to spend a whole lot more time with the spots surrounding the chorus, which actually isn’t even revealed to us until just prior to the three-minute mark.  So while it might not exactly further the song in some ways when it does finally come around, it’s not the dominant aspect of a track like “Mercy Mercy” and you get a whole lot more meat on the bone prior to the chorus even becoming a factor.  As for the execution overall though, BB never seems to let the quality or focus drop, and I fully respect that.

Listen to those bass tones on “Hard Hard Place,” will ya?  I really dig the mix on this tune and the choices that have been made as to where things sit.  You’ll notice the guitars are set in the distance, even the synth sounds and drums are to a degree.  It’s really the bass we hear at the forefront, and the vocals just slightly above that…it makes a track like “Hard Hard Place” stand out for unique reasons on a sonic level.  Beyond that, I think I feel like this could very well be the best track from BB Stevens too, which certainly ain’t a bad note to go out on.  “Hard Hard Place” makes for the right kind of finale in the differences that are established.  It’s still a fairly traditional approach to the chorus and faithful to what we’ve heard on this record in terms of the main strengths/interest being generated by the verses, but I felt like the main hooks were more effective on this final tune, and the melody much more tangible.  The surge into the chorus was particularly effective…that’s where I think you’ll hear one of the greatest moments in what you’ll find on this EP all-around – it’s an exciting part of “Hard Hard Place” without question.  That line of “every time you’re back on your meds” continually delivers…no matter how many times I spun this record throughout this past week, that moment of “Hard Hard Place” always revealed how truly perfect BB can be on the microphone.  He reminds me somewhat of what it’s like to listen to Rick Shaffer of The Reds in that regard…like…he’s downright GRUFF when it comes down to it, by choice of course, but in those moments where melody becomes the priority and takes the reins, they always reveal some of their undeniable best.  Ever the anti-preacher from the pulpit, Stevens has taken on religion in a variety of ways throughout this record, and I think there’s a lot of people out there that’ll appreciate his commentary & comparisons he’s made throughout this set-list in that Nick Cave style of performance that emulates the shallow and heightened drama of religion, yet skewers it at the very same time.  I felt like I was probably most onboard with this track in terms of its overall completeness, uniqueness, the songwriting, and performance that comes along with it…and yeah…it probably edged its way over how I felt towards “Spirit Be Gone!” earlier in the set, perhaps just by a hair or two.  There’s a tremendous level of crossover potential in a track like “Hard Hard Place,” which absolutely pulled me right onboard.

In the end, there’s a little something for everyone on an EP like this.  BB Stevens is certainly into the music he’s making, and the showmanship he puts into every song gives each of’em a verifiable chance to attract your attention.  Make no mistake, this is an artist that not only knows what he’s doing, but how to completely execute his vision for the sound he’s looking to create on a professional level, 100%.

Find out more about BB Stevens from his official website at:

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