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Whether it was the singer's recent battle with cancer or it just seemed like it was time to tough up again after the pop turn that 2004's Superbeautifulmonster took, there's no doubt in listening to The Promise that Bif Naked felt like she had something to prove when she started making her new record. In some ways, the album plays very much like a very scattered affair in that the songs re-examine every facet of her previous work - “Blue Jay” is a power ballad of the “Lucky” vintage and “Honeybee” is the sort of troublegum punk that was all over I Bificus while “My Innocence” dusts off the computerized beats that the remix boasted, some of that Superbeautiful pizzazz crops up for contrast and some of the rougher, dry-eyed elements of Purge factor in too but, by the same token, no matter which way The Promise turns there is a common tie that binds: even the more balladesque songs are bigger, beefier, harder and more confrontational than anything Bif Naked has released before.
After a little dry-eyed apologizing and criticism (“Crash and Burn”) that seems like foreshadowing in the context of what follows it (the recurring thematic line is “You get what you deserve”), Bif unapologetically lets every ounce of anger blurt against the densest wall of guitars that has ever accompanied her (check the tellingly entitled “Sick”) and doesn't bother with prisoners for the next hour. The kiss-offs fly fast and furiously as themes of desertion, frustration and absence (of people, of health, of comfort and of general well-being) characterize tracks including “Red Flag,” “Blue Jay,” “Fuck You 2,” “My Innocence,” “Honeybee” and “You'll Never Know” and, whether the singer wins or loses (she does both, depending on the track), there is no soft spot in the proceedings; even when the music scales back for some sparer fare, Bif steps up vocals to be even more damning in order to compensate.
If that aggression is a front, it's definitely a believable one.
Make no mistake, however, as consistently rough as this album is, it's not a one-trick pony. While there are obviously common themes in the lyric sheets attached to all of the songs on The Promise, Bif and her band seem to go out of their way to change up the vibe and feel of each of the songs. Depending on the moment, listeners will find strains of reggae (“River Of Fire”), almost-hot-rod-rockabilly (“You'll Never Know”), pop (“Amazon Hotel”) and even nü metal (“Ciao Bella,” “Sick”) that all work surprisingly well mixed with Bif's stock punk rock pedigree; as a study in generic intermingling, The Promise is remarkably ambitious.
Taking all of that into account, it's a safe assertion that if Bif Naked was feeling like she had something to prove after coming out of her potentially mortal ordeal, she has done better than anyone could have imagined. By opening up her palette and including a host of foreign sounds together on a single release, Bif illustrates not only how versatile she can be but, by also running a very heavy thread through the entire proceedings, she also proves that she hasn't lost a step to time or illness. If the tracks included on this album are the promise to which the title refers, there's no doubt that Bif Naked keeps her word.
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The Promise is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.