Punk-folk indie group AJJ, formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad, debuted its newest album, “The Bible 2,” on Aug. 19. It’s the group’s first album under its new name, and AJJ has promised its fans that it will be the same old band even though its name has changed. However, this setlist is a startling departure from the group’s former sweet spot: the acoustic blend of punk, country and folk that gave the band its notoriety is nowhere to be found in “The Bible 2.”
AJJ caused a much greater stir with its name change than it anticipated. It chose to use its initials because of complaints from Muslim fans that their use of the word “jihad” was offensive. The band also released a comical statement that its members “no longer wish to be a living reminder of president Andrew Jackson. Interesting historical figure as he was, he was an odious person and our fascination with him has grown stale.” The backlash was extreme: Many fans boycotted the band to protest its “political correctness.” Sadly, AJJ’s music seems to have been caught up in the fuss, muddling its clear-headed acoustics and replacing it with unfocused electronica.
In “The Bible 2,” harmonized vocals, heavy guitars and percussion give the music a disappointingly generic energy. The instrumentation veers into a strange territory that’s not quite metal, not quite ska, not quite classic rock and definitely not AJJ’s perfected acoustic punk. There are the tiniest of glimpses into the past — lead guitar-vocalist Sean Bonnette’s vocals in “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye,” for example, or the faintest of banjos in “Junkie Church” — but they’re so few and far between, they almost add to the let down.
AJJ should have taken its music in the same direction it took its moniker, paring down its sound to the essentials — what made it successful in the first place. It does, however, stay true to their its hard-hitting lyrics and thematic focus. “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread” hearkens back to one of the band’s 2007 hits, “No
More Tears,” focusing similarly on hopelessness and social decay, albeit in an entirely less satisfying musical shell.
“The Bible 2” may attract new fans who know nothing of Andrew Jackson Jihad’s past, but it will undoubtedly baffle any loyal fans who have not already left the band behind.