Porridge Radio’s ‘Every Bad’ is a visceral knockout (album review)
Misery loves company -- just look at arenas full of Cure, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails fans -- and sometimes you just want to wallow with someone that's down there too. Please welcome Porridge Radio to the stage. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Dana Margolin is wallowing, stewing, obsessing and generally spending too much time in her own thoughts across the whole of Every Bad, the band's brilliant new album. "I am waiting for you to get out of my mind," she wails on "Don't Ask Me Twice," one of 11 visceral, memorable songs on the record that aims straight for the gut.
Every Bad is an album of repeated refrains that fall between mantras, wish fulfillment and the diary entries of the very brokenhearted. "I was thinking on the idea of willing things to be okay by repeating that they are, because I need them to be," said Dana of single "Circling," one of the most intense songs on the record, which has her repeating "Everything’s fine" when clearly it is not and, later, crying "I go inside the sea sometimes" again and again as the song's mutant waltz backing pulls you down the drain. (The sea is another recurring theme on the record, inspired by the band's Brighton, UK hometown, and used as a cleansing agent here.) On "Lilac," Dana sings "I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck." It's a simple but powerful moment, as well as relatable feeling. Right when you think she's never going to get out of this mental roundabout, the haze clears for another repeated refrain, this one just a little sunnier: "I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other."
It should be said that this is not an overtly dour record, with many moments of humor, dark though it may be. "I’m bored to death let’s argue," is the opening line of the album. Porridge Radio aren't one of those bands you can listen to without noticing the words and Dana's impassioned delivery, but Every Bad succeeds because of the melodies, the performances, the arrangements, and the production. This is a great sounding modern rock record -- miles ahead, sonically, from their 2016 debut -- but not glossy or artificial. It's production that rises to the big emotions of the songs, which are varied in their attack. There are songs like "Sweet" and "Long" whose guitars slash and rip at you (shades of PJ Harvey); others, like "Nephews" and the ironically named "Pop Song," that sound like nine million rainy days (The Cure does come to mind). But there are also actual pop songs, like opener "Born Confused," and the album's catchiest number, "Give/Take," which leans closer to '90s indie rock like Pavement and is heavy on attitude.
The album's final three songs make an ambitious triptych: the aforementioned "Circling," which then pours out into a sea of synths and autotuned vocals on "(Something)." Those waves build to the dark, moody "Homecoming" which is all pounding toms, minor chords and another repeated refrain -- "There’s nothing inside" -- that starts as a murmur but grows to a crescendo with the rest of the band joining in the chant. The wave crashes, but then the band comes bursting back, but this time it's "Oh I'm coming home." It's potent catharsis, capping a knockout of a record.