As a Brighton publication that started out around the same time as Black Honey, it’s been an absolute honour to watch them grow as a band, develop their sound, and rise to the ranks from low key Brighton band to national darlings. Their debut record is a celebration of every phase, influence and sound the band has ever experimented with, with lead singer Izzy B Phillips’ dynamic, seductive and sultry voice linking it all together into a sound that can only be described as Black Honey. Released without the backing of a label, this is a force of nature that is four years in the making – and has the potential to go down as an iconic record of our times.
Despite the multitude of genres, everything is distinctly Black Honey due to Phillips’ incredible vocal performance. Like Nancy Sinatra meets Patti Smith, there’s a cinematic style that threads the record together. Take opening two songs ‘I Only Hurt the Ones I Love’ and Midnight’, for example. The latter is a driving, tour-de-force indie rock song with an incredibly catchy chorus whereas the latter is a straight-up disco track as if the Bee Gees scored a Tarantino film. Together, side by side, however, they work supremely, supporting each other as if they’re eccentric best friends, which is the same for the record as a whole.
For fans of their earlier Spaghetti-Western vibes, too, there’s enough in here to enjoy. ‘Hello Today’ and ‘Baby’ are both clast in 1970s American iconography, whereas ‘Into the Nightmare’, written with mate and touring buddy Mike Kerr of Royal Blood, is a sweeping and vigorous blues rock song that sounds like Joan Jett hijacked Queens of the Stone Age and took them on a roadtrip with the Prince of Darkness. As a lyricist, too, Phillips is incredibly underrated and has kept the style from early singles ‘Spinning Wheel’ and ‘Madonna’. She has the ability to take well know phrases such as “Crazy is, as crazy does” (in ‘Into the Nightmare’) and “Cross my heart and hope to die” (in ‘I Only Hurt the Ones I Love’) and twist them into iconic catchphrases concealed in inky black murkiness.
Leaving out popular singles such as ‘Somebody Better’, ‘Corrine’ and ‘Headspin’ was always a risk, but with newer tracks ‘Blue Romance’, ‘Crowded City’ and best of the lot, ‘Just Calling’, they’re hardly missed. Additionally, it means the record sounds fresh and inventive from the off, and surges and cascades without any hiccups. This is how it should be done, it not only makes the record that much more exciting but it means the entire project was made with an album in mind, rather than shoehorning singles in for commercial gain.
From disco, to desert rock, and even hip-hop style beats, Black Honey is an amalgamation of ideas that has absolutely no right to work – but it does superbly. Every genre explored sounds organic, every lyric feels personal and, just like their natural ascent to the top, everything feels like it’s done in the right way. It’s no surprise that their fanbase ranges from teenagers to the middle-aged; Black Honey make unconventional pop for the mainstream. Relentless, exciting, and incredibly varied, Black Honey’s debut is a bonafide success from start to finish.