Lt. Frank Dickens, a grungy experimental folk artist and self-proclaimed poet, released his second album, Sour Bubblegum, on Jaz Records in September 2017. Sour Bubblegum is the kind of thing you would listen to while contemplating the meaning of love and / or the pointlessness of our existence with no company but a box of cigarettes. Its title is a perfect representation of the duality of the album’s message: that our existence is pointless but there is hope in finding meaning through love.
Much like his first album, Sunburned (October 2016), Sour Bubblegum is characterized by nihilistic tones and raw, growling vocals comparable to those of popular indie-rock group, The National. Sour Bubblegum’s instrumental and rhythmic simplicity, as well as its lack of vocal virtuosity, effectively brings greater attention to the lyrics rather than to its other musical elements. The ingenuity of Dickens’ work lies in the poeticism of his lyrics and the questions addressed in them.
Sour Bubblegum is cloaked in a veil of existential angst. But where Sunburned fails to introduce any notion of hope, Dickens centers his second album around a single individual, someone presented as a lone figure of solace. As a result, Sour Bubblegum places greater emphasis on the idea of a lover rather than on questions regarding the fallacy of human connectedness, the point (or pointlessness) of our existence, and other nihilistic and existential themes that contributed most of the emotion on his previous album. This is the main setback of the Sour Bubblegum. Where Dickens’ debut was made unique by its ambiguous answers to heavy questions, Sour Bubblegum is brought down from this level of uniqueness by following romantic clichés.
However, the album redeems itself by delivering lyrics about love in a way that speaks to the soul rather than to the brain. This can be seen in the track Don’t Want to Fall Asleep with the phrase “Waltz to the end of time / colder as the sky drips dry / warmer as it flakes with snow / I feel a smile break cross your eyes.” While the lyrics don’t make logical sense, the listener somehow understands what Dickens means. In doing this, Dickens demonstrates his unique writing style by juxtaposing unexpected images together, as well as ideas of positivity and hope alongside hopelessness and despair. Despite Sour Bubblegum’s setbacks, the writing style of Lt. Frank Dickens reifies the album’s ingenuity.