by Quinn Myers (@rquinnmyers)
This is an ode to the imagination of Sean Bean.
Or at least it’s a bunch of adulatory words dedicated to the revelatory twists and turns that take form in Bean’s songwriting. Mostly, it’s a celebration of the new, long-awaited Bad History Month album: Dead And Loving It -- or officially, Dead and Loving It: An Introductory Exploration of Pessimysticism, out on Exploding in Sound.
There’s a lot to take in on this album, which is a testament to the emotional strength and evolution of Bean’s songwriting. It holds both a singular vision and an array of contradictions, which build to create a sprawling record that is easily the band’s most polished. I’m not sure if there’s a way to classify Dead and Loving It within any narrative-- as either nihilistic or hopeful, as triumphant or a downer -- a complication which ultimately gives weight and grace to the band’s first full-length in four years.
Abject anguish is all over Dead and Loving It -- of course, that’s familiarity territory for a band with a record titled Fucking Despair. But the dread and anxiety and yearning for the peace of nothingness that Bean sings about here feels like a new level of introspection for the supremely self-aware songwriter. That’s not to say this record is a pure nihilistic storm of depression -- at least not completely. Throughout the layers of darkness, malformed moments of hope and perseverance end up peaking through.
But definitely not on the album’s opener, “The Church of Nothing Matters.” The song is a tone setter that rattles in bleakness. “I don’t go to church/this is how I searched/for peace...and found nothing,” is the line that catches me on each listen. Salvation might exist, but it’s not exactly advertising itself.
It’s on the record’s second song, “Gazing At My Navel,” where a kind of undead optimism begins to appear. When Bean sings “It’s only when you realize you’re going nowhere that you finally arrive,” it’s the first instance of a particular type of zen that radiates through the album. Bean presents several small moments of catharsis driven by the acceptance of mortality, maybe, or of life’s inherent meaninglessness. But those existential salves only go so far, and, as Bean explores in later tracks, don’t seem to make life any less painful.
On Dead and Loving It, Bad History Month attempts to navigate the line where imagination ends and the real world starts -- a place often blurry and full of doubt. Listening to this record can feel like wondering if a certain memory actually happened, or if it’s just a self-serving subconscious creation. That’s a discomfort that Bean seems to know well -- in a way, every song on the album seems to ask: are these thoughts and feelings even real?
That uncertainty is catalogued most strongly on the song, “The Nonexistent Distance.” When Bean sings, “Trying to envision / the nonexistent distance / between myself and nonexistence / I hold my breath and listen,” it’s not just a tender slice of poetry, but also a sobering question about the worthiness of pain and living through it.
Until this record, I’ve always related to the band’s music primarily through their lyrics, both in delivery and meaning. But on Dead and Loving It, the peaks and valleys that populate the instrumentation on every Bad History Month record feel like they’ve finally assumed equal status with the words being sung. There’s a sonic density on this album that’s oddly comforting to be immersed in. Three of the eight songs are over eight minutes, and many feature plodding sections full of sometimes subtle, sometimes numbing guitar work. Moving together and forward with Bean’s voice (and many clever and well placed vocal hooks) the arrangements drive home all the pain and sorrow and intrigue and confusion that are embedded within this record.
It’s not an easy task to find comfort in nothingness and accept the contradictions it yields. “I’ve spent my life afraid of the dark,” Bean sings at one point. “The dark feels safe,” he sings at another. But the existential thrashing that drives this record showcases a bravery that elevates Bad History Month, at its best moments, to a sanctified and eternal place. Dead And Loving It is a work worthy of the most sincere type of close listening -- one that yields a hardworking communion between the center of Sean Bean’s imagination and the center of yours.