They’re so pretty, oh so pretty..
Pretty Babs seem to have appeared on the scene pretty damn suddenly – and bam, they have an album pretty much ready to drop.
It’s true that they appeared made up of people that I was already very familiar with – Sam Jones on guitar and lead vocals has appeared on these pages loads, and Liam Bainbridge of course played bass in his self-named band (and I’m sure featured with Brad Dear at some point pre-blog days) – and on drums there’s Brad Drury, of course formerly of Ferocious Dog and occasional Star Botherer. So familiar faces in a slightly less familiar setting.
The thing that struck me when I first saw Pretty Babs live was that Sam’s powerful voice has been absolutely crying out for a heavier backing track than he formerly had – either just with his acoustic guitar or band. So taking a step back from the folkier bluesier sound and getting down and dirty with some more grungy rock has been a revelation – so obvious, but it’s easy to say that with hindsight. They’ve clicked though, and landed on a sound that is both engaging and, dare I say, has the potential to be commercially successful too (like I know anything about that, ha!).
So, Graffiti Lights is their debut album – complete with artwork by The Famous Artist Birdy Rose, and I’ve been getting to grips with it for longer than I ought to have before getting this written down. I was going to drop Sam a message and ask why on earth they plumped for Pretty Babs as a name, but decided against it – I really have absolutely no idea! It’s certainly catchy though – it always makes me smile as the canteen ladies at my office in Solihull always call me ‘Bab’ when they hand me a tea or coffee – I think that the Solihull canteen ladies would probably surmise that Sam, Liam and Brad are indeed pretty babs. So maybe that’s it.
Fade So Low sets out the intentions early – drawn out electric guitar strums over a hypnotic drum beat as the bass starts to thrum through along with Sam’s lyrics. Backing vocals accompany to see out the end of the verses before the guitar work kicks off in earnest. Grungeish, but with precision – is precision-grunge a thing? I Wouldn’t Rule It Out kicks in with punkish guitar work before the percussion and bass kick in to give it the framework for the vocals to dance over – as with the first track, clever pace changes keep you on your tapping toes.
On my copy at least Down in the Alley starts with a bit of conversation in the studio, I like little glimpses into the process like that so I hope they stay! I think it’s Brad saying “Right, right right..” before the guitar kicks in followed by the full track which has a filthy guitar and bass chug with fast beats and vocals leading into a rip-roaring chorus. Buttons and Pennies is the only ye olde Sam Jones Band track to get the Pretty Babs treatment – and boy it works well, guitar intro then a lovely chugging backing track brings out a new side to the folkier former incarnation.
Then a change of emphasis – more acoustic sounding guitar strums introduce Michaela, a charming and rambling tribute to the wonder that is ‘Kila. You can’t help but have a mental image of her grinding on the old timers though! I’d be chuffed with the sentiment as a dedicated song though! Percussion kicks in at the end and we’re back to a bit more wailing guitar work to bring in Cold Lake Shore – more fast drums, chugging pace and alternating chords then solo work on the guitar (and an interesting pronunciation of ‘superfluous’ if you listen carefully).
There’s no let up in the pace in the intro for Up From The Floorboards although it slows up initially for the vocals with a dirty chugging bass line, but it soon kicks right back in again – but then there are sections with just singing and drums before the snarling guitar and bass thud back in. Heady stuff. Red Brick Town has ringing guitar work over a plodding bass riff and rapid drums – lyrics are evocative of frustration at the mundanity of being stuck in a run down place, although the melody and pace is upbeat – there’s some defiance in there for sure – not least in the epic guitar solo towards the end!
Don’t Step on the Moor is almost metal at the start – lyrically it gives us the album title, and it immediately makes me think of Ugly Kid Joe – a cry of ‘Hey’ kicks the song in with crashes of symbols punctuating the repetitive guitar and bass riff before just bass and drums continue for the vocals to overlay. It’s a bloody strong track. Then to bring you back to earth the gentle caress of The Storm – slow paced, acoustic guitar strums and gentle drums sees the album out with – dare I say it – a somewhat mournful ballad, particularly powerful two thirds in where the backing track all but drops out after an instrumental for a vocal-only section.
This is an accomplished album – just as they seem to have come sprinting out the blocks in the quality of their live performances, the same is true in the studio. The production is great, it keeps all the grittiness and passion whilst highlighting the excellent technical musicianship all three of them bring to the party. As alluded to above (okay, outright stated) – I do think that along with The Outlines and Black Thorn I’d say Pretty Babs have it in them to be commercially successful, clever songwriting with passion but remaining accessibility.
It should be available within the next month or so – and from what I’m hearing despite the breakneck pace at which they’ve emerged they’re not resting on their laurels either with further developments in the works. Watch this space!