Photo Credit: Laura Allard Fleischl
Released back in March, Brighton, England band Black Honey’s second album Written & Directed housed (for starters) what could only have been one of 2021’s best rock tracks, “Run for Cover.” Tight, kinetic, and to-the-point, the fuzzed-out guitar sounds recall the long-lost subgenre once known as psychobilly. Between the verse and chorus, the song is damn near perfect before it manages to get even more perfect when the bridge is introduced two-thirds of the way in.
Most of the remainder of Written & Directed shows that this single track was no fluke. One of the best uses for a half-hour of any rock fan’s time to present itself in the past year, the album is a truly lethal blend of garage-worthy new wave and grandiose theatrical rock circa 1970. “Beaches” revolves around a handclap beat, and also finds lead singer Izzy Phillips doing a rap verse which is less hip-hop and more classic girl group. It’s also one of several tracks on the album that creates a “bigger” sound with the use of horns (which are most likely synthesizers, but we’d rather not look behind the curtain too much), along with “Fire” (which also utilizes a bass line very similar to Lou Reed’s classic “Walk on the Wild Side”) and “I Do It to Myself.”
“Summer of ‘92” despite its title begins with a ’60s-style pop hook and then ends surprisingly with another hint of theatric rock, coming in the form of a full chorus singing. One of the main lyrical phrases of the aforementioned “I Do It to Myself” also perfectly illustrates just how ceaselessly Black Honey merges different musical time periods: “I’m a walking contradiction.” Rock fans will probably be split on whether they recognize the line as the title of a 1996 Green Day hit or as a lyric from “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” a 1971 album cut by Kris Kristofferson (probably best known for being referenced in the movie Taxi Driver). But while old school influences abound, Written & Directed never feels like a nostalgia trip.
Throughout the album, such influences continue to prove both diverse and effective, at least for the most part. Opening cut “I Like the Way You Die” from the title alone may remind listeners of Nine Inch Nails, and then the song itself – with its fuzzy, echo-y, stomping synths – will have the same effect. However, “Disinfect” goes for the same type of sound but falls flat and ends up as the album’s only weak link. The band does show a softer side, particularly on the mid-tempo “Back of the Bar” (“All I do is dream of you”), and Written & Directed closes somewhat uncharacteristically (though successfully) with “Gabrielle”, an acoustic number which in which the lyrics are from the perspective of a woman scorned (“Oh Gabrielle // You have him underneath your spell… // Give him back to me”) thematically resembling Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.”
While the rest of the band is unquestionably tight, Black Honey’s essential ingredient is lead singer Izzy Phillips, whose vocals are the perfect mix of vampiness and don’t-f*ck-with-me bravado. Black Honey will invite inevitable comparisons to Wolf Alice, another current UK rock band whose sound is something of a throwback and is also fronted by a blonde woman. However, Black Honey may be more comparable to No Doubt during their ’90s peak, with Phillips coming off as Gwen Stefani’s more troublesome and rebellious (though ultimately misunderstood) sister. However, no matter what analogies we draw for the band, one thing is relatively certain: listeners who sample a taste of Black Honey will definitely want to come back for more.