As great as it would be for Petrol Girls to become huge, it also makes sense why they haven’t. They’re one of punk’s most vital, volatile prospects who’ve never missed a beat across their entire body of work, and it’s for those very same reasons that they aren’t fully conducive with such grandeur. That’s not a fault though; if anything, it underlines the uncompromising streak that they’ve rode out to four albums now, all of which have been prescient and direct in their anger in standout ways every time. As for Baby, there’s something of a refresh that’s so key to it, one that not only zeroes in on exactly what makes Petrol Girls fantastic from the ground up, but also bends it to aim for and achieve a lot more. Even with Ren Aldridge having one of the most effective screams out there—seriously, the number of vocalists as convincingly shorn of stylism and artifice as her can probably be counted on one hand—she’s just as effective in a more prodding, impish mode when the execution remains laser-focused and the targets are justified. She’ll strike at sanctimonious ‘activists’ who’ll prioritise ego-stroking moralising over actually addressing the issues on Preachers, while Baby, I Had An Abortion is exactly what a pro-choicer anthem should be in its deliberate provocation and sneered-out humour. It’s all exceedingly brusque and snappy, the perfect foil to how true rage is redistributed to where it leave the biggest, most righteous crater. That comes in songs like Fight For Our Lives and Violent By Design, coming in the wake of multiple brutalisations of women at the hands of the police that rallies against an institution ill-equipped to protect and the societal attitudes towards women that facilitate and perpetuate that. It’s harsh and harrowing by design, but also grips so unwaveringly in how endlessly quotable Violent By Design is, and how tar-thick the influence of activist Janey Starling coats the album’s back portion.
What’s more, there’s the feeling of proximity that increases a discomfort that, once again by design, permeates Baby entirely. Aldridge’s perfectly slicing voice and tangible hurt does a lot there, as does a refocus on post-punk and the angularity that brings within the sound. Songs like Feed My Fire and Clowns bring out a gnarled, knotted shred that’s rebuilt on the dance-punk shudder of Baby, I Had An Abortion and the collapsing noise of Fight For Our Lives and Sick & Tired. Add on a deliberate looking away from obvious hooks, and the punk really comes out of Petrol Girls on Baby, in a more traditional fashion. It’s loud and unrelenting, produced in a way to slim it down and sharpen it up, and positively nailing that at every turn. To nitpick, maybe it isn’t as physically incisive on slower cuts like Unsettle and Bones, purely on the basis how that slower side plays out, but that never crosses into them being bad either. More so, it’s indicative of how little is held back for Petrol Girls this time, where there are far fewer restraints in terms of directions to take brought about by their post-punk focus. It all feels more frenetic and wiry for it, as guitars and bass ricochet off each other at acute but ultimately satisfying angles, for Aldridge to let loose over in whatever way is fit for the subject and situation. As such, Baby never has a dull moment, or even one where it feels as though there’s a musical strain that hasn’t been satisfying explored. Not only is it bolder than Petrol Girls have ever gone on all fronts, but it taps into their essence for firebrand punk energy and electricity and supercharges it all to its greatest height yet. This is absolutely the one to beat going forwards, not only for Petrol Girls themselves in their ongoing crusade to define and mobilise modern punk, but for all the bands looking to hit a similar space of incendiary power. Utterly essential.
For fans of: Blood Command, Gouge Away, War On Women
‘Baby’ by Petrol Girls is released on 24th June on Hassle Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall