After a year in which our collective musical experiences have largely involved listening to sad songs walking aimlessly around a park, keeping things at a sensible volume so as not to annoy the neighbours and trying to kid ourselves that watching a livestream filmed in an empty, vibeless room is how we want to spend our Saturday nights, there’s something deliciously hopeful about a trip through Black Honey’s second effort.
Landing as pub gardens, the prospect of live music and fun (glorious fun!) seem tantalisingly within reach, and introducing itself with the kind of stomp that’s begging to be played loud (‘I Like The Way You Die’), ‘Written & Directed’, at its best moments, feels like something of a clarion call for future hedonism.
There’s previous single ‘Beaches’ – a cheeky, retro-leaning wink of a song running on hand claps and playful nods to ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ – that you could easily bust a ‘Grease’-style hand jive to should the inclination occur. ‘Run For Cover’, written alongside Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr, revs along with exactly the thunderous prowl you’d expect from the pairing, its hefty strut only aided by the fact that its opening guitar notes sound exactly like Girls Aloud’s glorious ‘Sound of the Underground’. Meanwhile, highlight ‘Disinfect’ (not a pandemic-related offering, thank god) is positively gnarly, its opening bass creep giving way to a sledgehammer chorus that should leave a fair few bruises when mosh pits are back in action.
Black Honey have always leaned into their theatricalities, Izzy Bee Phillips a flamboyant figurehead previously seen mooching round London Fashion Week dressed like a camp Ronald McDonald, and it’s when they push those tendencies that they shine. Whether in the aforementioned heftier tracks, the psych hook and hazy, sepia tinge of ‘Summer ‘92’ or the acoustic melodrama of closer ‘Gabrielle’, ‘Written & Directed’ might veer in different directions but its thread is its commitment to whichever they’ve chosen at the time. It’s only when the choices seem safer that the record dips; ‘Back of the Bar’ putters along inoffensively but feels slightly throwaway, while ‘Believer’ aims for a rousing sermon but doesn’t quite summon the gusto to really cement the religion.
If Lana Del Rey’s first album had its omnipresent red dress, then lyrically Phillips has a similar tendency towards recurring ideas: tequila and violence, black leather and revenge. It’s both a strength and a weakness – a characteristic that helps create the distinct world they’ve built around them, but leaves you sometimes wondering what’s really behind all the cinematic picture-painting. Is ‘Fire’ – a feminist call to arms full of big placard-toting statements (“I don’t care what you have to say/ We’re raising hell/ It’s time for a change”) – aided or hindered by its broad strokes? There are undoubtedly arguments for both.
Still, by the end of the album, the biggest takeaway from ‘Written & Directed’ is of a band able to splash a hell of a lot of colour onto their canvas. Softly-spoken bedroom pop singers may be the order of the day, but come June, when the world is hopefully en route to a gigantic post-COVID second summer of love, we’re all going to want something a little more vibrant to soundtrack our gallivanting. You could choose a lot worse folk than Black Honey for the job.
Listen to Izzy Bee Phillips talk through each track on ‘Written & Directed’ in this episode of our Sleeve Notes podcast.