Puts the screen siren, the femme fatale, the damsel-in-distress in the saddle
Paige Lambie
10:21 17th March 2021

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After the bona-fide brilliance of their eponymous debut, you’d be forgiven for expecting - hoping for - Black Honey to dust off the mirror-ball and indulge themselves in another shimmering, disco-inferno rodeo for album number two. And while the Brighton four-piece remain as weird and wonderful as ever, where their 2018 release lends itself to worlds forged by means of escaping reality - odes to the wild west and Studio 54 fantasies, Twin Peaks-drawn surrealism and the dusty powder-puff grandeur of old Hollywood - Written & Directed looks to life after the glitter has faded. 

“I made this record for young women to feel invincible,” frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips says of the band’s sophomore record. The release sees her confront a presence sorely lacking for her younger self, growing up and discovering rock music for the first time: that of strong and formidable women. They existed, of course – Debbie Harry, Shirley Manson, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, to name an obvious few – but they were few and far between, on a route not so easily accessible. One where you could expect to fight tooth and nail to be taken seriously. It’s a sentiment that still rings true today, for women both on- and off-stage, mistaken for the fangirl, the groupie, the wife, girlfriend, partner; denied entry to their own shows – secondary characters within their own narrative. And it is this exactly that Written & Directed upends. 

Flouting age-old cinematic representation of women, the record puts the screen siren, the femme fatale, the damsel-in-distress – characters rooted in the “weaknesses” of their gender – in the saddle, protagonists for the very first time; a call-to-arms for all those who identify as female, to pour fuel on that toxic male gaze and watch as it goes up in flames, heart-shaped glasses optional.

With its cut-throat lens and Phillips at the helm, the record is hook-laden and incisive, each track hovering around that three-minute mark. No more, no less. Album opener ‘I Like The Way You Die’ is bloodthirsty, beckoning with a stomping, strutting beat – a black widow with its caressing bridge. Likewise the foreboding ‘Run For Cover’, daring, taunting, lying in wait with that line “I wanna be your favourite mistake.” What is most disconcerting about Written & Directed though, is its ability to switch from looks that kill to the doe-eyed ‘Gabrielle,’ the sultry, moonlit croon of ‘Back of the Bar,’ something straight out of an old prom scene, the drapes and the squares of Cry-Baby, as seamlessly as it traverses its themes of femininity, power and identity. 

Fuzzy, frenetic and steeped in nostalgia, the simmering groove that runs throughout, that familiar spaghetti-Western tinge mean that the album is just as much for dancing as it is for world domination, a quirky homage to grindhouse cinema and kitschy pulp films with brass band instrumentation and the occasional hand-clap to boot. Whilst the album title itself is a nod to Tarantino, it’s also a reference to Written & Directed’s most singular narrative, one that aims to inspire self-belief, celebrating the strength in vulnerability every bit as much as the strength in fire. 

Never far from chaos, Written & Directed is incendiary, no-nonsense, unapologetic; Black Honey’s most full-throttle collection of songs yet. Recorded in 2019 throughout breaks in touring, Phillips says the record “feels like a premonition of things to come,” not only in the politically-charged grunge of ‘Disinfect,’ a heavy guitar-led track rife with distortion, but alongside the cathartic satire of ‘Believer’ and inevitable fan anthem ‘Fire’. Raucous and unflinching, the ten tracks are a visionary confessional for the riot of 2021, capturing in space and time an industry and a world that rests its laurels on out-dated patriarchy, and planting the flag for fierce, strong women everywhere. 

There’s one particularly poignant moment throughout it all: the joyride of ‘Summer ’92’ and it’s line “I’m your favourite mistake.” A marked change from ‘Run For Cover’, a blinding dawn of clarity that says you can have it all; that times are changing. 

Written & Directed arrives 19 March via Foxfive Records.

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