I’m beginning to realise that BLAB is a bit of a punk enigma.
Her three singles to date (R.I.P., Casual Sex and Eton Mess) have been fabulous slices of guitar-driven attitude-rock, tinged with the gritty edge brackish estuary air of Southend-on-Sea. So that’s what was in my mind as I got ready to hear her new release, Insurance (out on the brilliant Cool Thing Records label today).
That attitude is still there in spades, and there’s no lack of grit. But if you’ve ever heard BLAB before, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. Like me, you may – understandably – ready your ears for an onslaught of jagged punk riffs from the get go. But instead, what you hear when Insurance opens is an insistent, repetitive minor key loop, a bit of twanged guitar, a soft lo fi electronic drum beat, and then, after a brief screech of static, some overdriven bass.
Ok, I’ve got it – it’s the delayed gratification game she’s playing here. There’ll be a build, and then boom! – power chords all the way. As if to confirm this approach, in comes BLAB, asking archly “What are you doing?”, and you can feel the pressure ramping up.
But that’s not BLAB’s game here – she’s not going to play things how you want them – and why should she? Instead, it’s those vocals that do the work. She growls her judgement on the Essex to City of London worker, and the lifestyle of the 20-somethings who blindly accept the role of city commuter. She rails against authority (literally, with her line on the oversight of the Financial Conduct Authority, a reference I never thought I’d hear set to music), but she doesn’t ever shout.
Don’t get me wrong – the vocals here are still absolutely and satisfyingly fierce, and uniquely delivered. There’s a real growly edge to BLAB’s voice as she spits out her lyrics, encouraging the unnamed listener to consider their life choices and ending with the damning put down “your life’s just boring”.
I’ll admit that as I listened to Insurance for the first time, I was longing for some big punk guitar and drums. That longing was made more intense when, more than two minutes into the track, I felt that build and release was finally happening. At this point, the bass gets bassier, and you get to hear some gorgeously-chunky, low-range guitar bubbling just beneath the surface.
But she never lets go completely. As I listened more it dawned on me that this was deliberate, and very powerful. Sometimes showing restraint can be the most effective form of asserting yourself, and BLAB has got that down to an art here. Sometimes it’s what you don’t hear that makes the song what it is.
BLAB, herself a 20-something, says that through this song she is peering behind the facade “at the unfortunate truth that external markers of success don’t always equate to a life of fulfillment” and touching on her own realisation of this. You can feel that personal edge here – this song is coming from somewhere deep inside her.
What’s clear is that with Insurance, BLAB is biting back, but there’s also the feeling that she’s biding her time a bit. Just waiting and watching to exact her revenge. Personally I can’t wait to see that revenge play out.
Words by JAMES MANNION
This article has also been published on Music Heard and Observed.