What do you do for a second album? You can continue on a tried and tested path, but then run the risk of becoming self-parodying and seen as one-dimensional. You can experiment, but risk alienating your fanbase. If you’re really brave, you can evolve. Be smart, take your best parts forward, try new things but integrate them.
If you’re Black Honey, that choice is markedly easier. Their self-titled debut experimented outside what we’d come to expect from them and carried it off with marked aplomb. Combine that with the bonus disc of early tracks, which was basically an album in itself, and the band have a wealth of experience and wisdom few other acts have at album three… let alone at album two. Thus, the outcome is, well, mega.
The easiest, most relevant comparison I can make is this: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is to Hollywood what this album is to Tarantino and the very core of Black Honey themselves. Take that essence, distil it down, add some thundering sonic violence, and voila! If this classic excessive violence is your bag, let me suggest opener ‘I Like The Way You Die’ (reviewed here) and Black Honey’s most recent single, ‘Disinfect’. Both have the feel of a saloon shootout but from the perspective of the cowboy in the black hat rather than from the eye of Clint Eastwood. It’s a self-assured swagger you only get from being that little bit twisted.
Knowing that ‘Disinfect’ was written in 2019 and was planned for release in early 2020 is a strange feeling – an almost Cassandrian prophecy. Fortunately, it remains an absolute banger. If anything, holding it back has made it only more human, and given so much more content for the music video. With verses only slightly more subdued than their thundering choruses, the amount of detail packed in is impressive. Who’d have thought a touch of castanet would work so well over throbbing bass? ‘Disinfect’ is absolutely sure to incite many a mosh-pit and half-screamed singalong, feeling death proof with its walls of noise and simply evocative lyrics.
After a lockdown show at Signature Brew last September, ‘Back Of The Bar’ looked set to be an early fave, and the studio version hasn’t let me down. That position has been maintained, despite coming up against staunch opposition. Vibes-wise, it’s very teen movie; maybe the main character is at prom watching their crush with someone else, before bravely venturing out into the night and finding wonder in the rest of the world, if only for a brief respite. The song is pretty low-key, with its most stand-out instrumental feature being what sounds like a theremin solo – definitely a bold choice. To be fair, with lyrical longing as strong as this – “all I do / Is dream of you” – that’s absolutely the mood.
‘Believer’ is perhaps the song I would say feels the most like the essence of Black Honey on the whole album, even if sonically it goes its own way. It’s got the swaggering Western tone down to a tee, with muted saloon piano dancing through the verses and a horn section adding punch to the chorus. When the simple but soaring few notes of guitar kick, you feel nothing but spaghetti Western training montage, and it is glorious. If this is Black Honey “born again”, this is a truly biblical second coming.
However, the real Royale with cheese of the album so far as I’m concerned right now is ‘Summer ‘92’. It’s totally a top-down cruising banger, a niche that is very importantly distinct from general bangers in an indescribable way. Maybe what gets to me is the riff. It’s piercing and ferociously fuzzy in defiant contrast to the rest of the song, but builds a level of groove that really shouldn’t be achievable that quickly. The verses travel with a deceptive velocity, dragging you into swaggering reminiscence for a year you may not have even been alive in. When the chorus hits in its intensely vibey sixties flair, it somehow surmises the stumbling discomfort of youth.
If any song is guaranteed to reach anthem status pretty much from release day, it has to be ‘Fire’. It’s got all the elements to make a proper hit – lightly strummed acoustic guitar, mellow sliding bass, a rousing build of keys towards the chorus – and then we shift towards bombastic Westerns. Did someone say horn section? It’s properly energising, far from kitschy or inglorious. Yet while all of this is awesome, the lyrics are really the important bit. If you ever wanted to reclaim power and agency, this is the track. The reaction from many of frontwoman Izzy B Phillip’s friends and contemporaries has apparently been profound, and it is not hard to imagine why. If you only listen to one song on March 19th when the album drops, make it this one.
I could continue to write about Izzy’s favourite track (confessed via livestream) ‘I Do It To Myself’, or the Nancy Sinatra styled ‘Gabrielle’, but I figure that between me and the singles, there should be some surprises left for you to discover.
As you’ve probably gathered, my first impressions of Written & Directed are distinctly positive. Much more so than my initial opinion on the self-titled debut was, and with how my adoration of that quickly flourished. I can only see a similar deepening love here too. The self-assurance needed to make a statement of identity for album two, rather than diverging and drifting from what makes a band themselves, is certainly not misplaced. With this flourishing certainty, Black Honey have proven they’re here to play in the big leagues, not with the reservoir dogs.
Written & Directed is available for pre-order or pre-save basically anywhere you care to look. If you want something truly special, check out the Zoetrope vinyl, available exclusively as a pre-order from Blood Records.