Ben Roy
No Enlightenment in Sobriety
Greater Than Collective

By John Wenzel

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Ben Roy gets a lot of mileage out of grating against expectations, so it makes sense for him to begin his second album, No Enlightenment in Sobriety, with the track “I’m Gonna Get Out of Here On This One.” The phrase that most comics use to end their sets is also the longest on the new disc, so the fact that listeners are essentially backing into his harsh, shattered world feels completely natural. We also, very quickly, get to the meat of the matter, which is Roy’s acute pain and its many, many causes.

no enlightenment in sobriety

But Roy’s not just looking for cheap friction when he bemoans his sobriety or calls his family “a scourge on the soul.” The Denver comedian and member of The Grawlix troupe may have the skinny, tattooed, punk-rock-contrarian thing down pat, but his thoughts—from his disdain for hunky firefighters to his unapologetic desire to kill his cat and his descriptions of many fleshy, sticky, rotting things—aren’t simply harsh on the surface. They betray a genuine glee at “parting the room” (as he says before pitting dog and cat lovers against each other), and would be funny whether he was whispering or yelling them. Here they just happen to be delivered with the showmanship and volume of a Dead Kennedys set.

Roy has earned his comparisons to noted ranters Lewis Black and David Cross, who like to rip limb-from-limb the same societal idiocies and personal failings, so it’s also satisfying to listen to Roy further differentiate on No Enlightenment. His juicy turns of phrase, self-conscious jabs and twisted logic have begun morphing into something resembling no one else in stand up, even if he occasionally takes longer than he needs to make his point.

Enlightenment and Roy’s first album I Got Demons are chronological episodes of the same series. He calls back to the first by constantly acknowledging said demons on the new album, and the original Demons track “I Miss Drinking” basically laid the groundwork for this one’s title. But while the stand-up world is growing thick with comedians doing material about getting sober, Roy isn’t calmer for it (a la Chris Hardwick) or even particularly better off—beyond not barricading himself, his wife and his five-year-old child in their apartment during one of his drinking binges. He’s still miserable, like Marc Maron minus the nebbish affectations, and plus about 4,000 tattoos.

It’s dark stuff, served up with a confessional shame but also a confidence that paints him as an anarchist with a Molotov cocktail and a glint in his eye, well aware that what he’s about to do is evil. Demons wasn’t a desperate album; that simply implies a lack of ideas, and it certainly wasn’t hurting for any. But it was at least maniacal about proving its energy and anger. No Enlightenment is equally spittle-flecked but also a bit more comfortable and measured, allowing pauses to creep in between meltdowns, and hinting that Roy’s pacing and sense of dynamics are finally starting to match his hurricane-like delivery.

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