When Jim made the analogy that Alabama Shakes is to Jon Stewart as Thunderbitch is to Stephen Colbert, he was right on the mark. Both Brittany Howard projects take things head-on, but the latter does so in a decidedly more straightforward way; the only time they really let loose on Sound and Color was with "The Greatest." Now imagine an album of that kind of kick-ass, no-punches-pulled, stripped-down soul-punk, and you have Thunderbitch.
To put this in perspective, the first song on the album is titled "Leather Jacket." Guess what it's about? That's right, "looking totally fuckin' awesome." All of the odd deviations and poignant messages of Sound & Color are replaced by an unabashed love of rock 'n roll. This is often the part where I'd comment on the nuance of the grandiose previous album, how it addressed interpersonal issues with a sharp, but refined wit, and how that's somehow inherently superior, but you know what? Being fucking awesome is just as great of a message, and Howard brings as much passion to this project as anything she's done before. It never feels cheesy or hokey; it's fun music in the best possible way – catchy and energetic without losing substance or style.
That said, there are a few concessions that are naturally made in the process. The structure and instrumentation is notably limited – though you could argue that's part of the appeal – and while the production isn't all over the place, as in Sound & Color, neither is it particularly vibrant, a real shame too for a project that has so much energy and liveliness it's practically bursting at the seams with it. But also like its sister album, that doesn't make much of a difference; if you're really splitting hairs over production with a project like this, you know something went really right.
I've had a contentious relationship with surprise drops this year, but if we keep getting anything like Thunderbitch, I think I might change my tune. Thunderbitch is the Brittany Howard album you didn't think you needed, one that shows her wild(er) side, and whose name tells you exactly what you're in for: something big, loud, abrasive, and great without trying for a second. It doesn't need intense examination. This isn't music to meditate to. When you hear it, you know exactly what you're in for, and it keeps it up for its entirety, just as Sound & Color holds up in its own way. And just like Jon and Stephen, though we might fight over which is better, it's all a matter of taste.