The core ethos of punk – even down to its most simplified form – has always been about identity, operating on a very human level as a place for outcasts and non-conformists to express themselves away from the restrictions of society. That ideal might have diminished somewhat (especially with the commercialisation of pop-punk in the 2000s that found a way to commodify said angst for mainstream consumption), but the idea of community and togetherness definitely still remains, notably to foster that sense of kinship among the LGBTQ+ community, away from the discrimination that they still face so regularly. Even without the more personal level of resonance (as a straight, cisgendered man, this writer makes no objection to the fact that there are people far more well-versed to talk about oppression and discrimination than him), it’s not hard to see how bands like Nervus and itoldyouiwouldeatyou have brought forward such deep emotionality and catharsis, and created enormously powerful works through it. And among the acts causing some of the biggest ruckus in that vein are Liverpool’s Queen Zee, who’ve become something of a talismanic local presence for their tremendous sense of energy, wit and personality from their eponymous vocalist Zee.
However, compared to Nervus’ rousing anthemia or itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s layered introspection, Queen Zee are far more in line with the fierce transgression of the underground, reminiscent of the open, unashamed provocation of old punks like X-Ray Spex or The Dicks, or the gutter-glitter camp of The Rocky Horror Show. It’s possibly the most faithful representation of queercore that any band has produced in a long time, though to simply pigeonhole Queen Zee in such narrow straits would do them a huge disservice. Instead, it’s far more accurate and beneficial to say that this is simply just a great punk album, with a level of smartness and bite that only serves to elevate it even higher.
That’s important too, especially for an album like this taking to task such a precise area of modern life, but Queen Zee’s balance of snarling, bit-between-the-teeth catharsis and tongue-in-cheek wryness is borderline perfect. There’s a burning frustration towards a society that still sees transphobic violence and conforming to gender binaries and stereotypes as the norm on Sissy Fists and Boy respectively, as well as rampant misogyny on I Hate Your New Boyfriend and a laissez-faire towards change on Victim Age, but it’s offset by a wit and humour that never feels out of place. That’s because Zee is the sort of vocalist that can muster such a convincing amount of snark and punk sneer that even the venom from simple intentions is able to burn; it’s that sort of provocation that gives tracks like Loner and Lucy Fur their edge. It’s also where the parallels to glam-rock can be drawn the most, and it’s a wonderful thing to see Queen Zee completely own it like on the scuzzy raunchiness of Porno and Hunger Pains or the almost gothic theatricality of Idle Crown.
It’s easy to see how that translates to the music itself as well, though it’s more of a case of sleazy undercurrents resonating through what turns out to be a pretty straightforward punk album. That’s not a criticism either; the clear DIY ethos is recognised is the formidable, roaring guitar tone of tracks like Loner and Porno, drenched in guttural fuzz and feedback for a gloriously raw and unhinged final product. It says a lot when the only real dud is the minute-long penultimate number Anxiety which can feel a bit too throwaway in its lo-fi aesthetic, as it shows just how good Queen Zee are at writing vicious, gripping punk music that can still find ways to play with diversity and distinction. Idle Crown is possibly the best example with its seedy, post-punk groove and Zee’s best Marilyn Manson impression, but Lucy Fur’s pulling from pop-punk and hard rock screamalongs hits with just as much force, as does I Hate Your New Boyfriend’s buildup into open-ended noise-rock. There’s enough variety to keep this album moving at a brisk pace (not to mention how relatively short it is), but Queen Zee’s concise approach makes it feel wholly fulfilling.
And at the end of the day, that’s the most crucial sign of a strong album. Here, Queen Zee’s vision of punk has crystallised into what sits among the genre’s purest form, rallying for change with anger and drive, but keeping the communal vibe alive all the way through. It might sound simple, and listening to this album only confirms how true that is, but in a case like this, simplicity thrives, and when it’s delivered with the style, sass and pure entertainment value that Queen Zee can bring to the table, it’s hard to want much more.
For fans of: The Stooges, X-Ray Spex, The Rezillos
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Queen Zee’ by Queen Zee is out now on Sasstone Records.