Petrol Girls – ‘Baby’

By Tom Walsh

When bringing ideas together for their third record ‘Baby’, Petrol Girls vocalist Ren Aldridge was conscious that she had lost her “fun side” and wanted to make something a little less intense than 2019’s excellent ‘Cut & Stitch’. Petrol Girls have always been at the forefront of confrontational, outspoken and defiant hardcore punk but in ‘Baby’ they carry a more tongue-in-cheek attitude.

In the three years since ‘Cut & Stitch’ – a deeply personal and reflective record for Aldridge – it feels like society continues to disintegrate. Politicians are still blaming the poor and immigrants for their country’s problems, police brutality remains as prevalent as ever, no normal person can afford to buy a home, and a culture of toxic masculinity persists in most walks of lives. It seems another apt time for Petrol Girls to produce a hard-hitting record.

‘Baby’, however, is a little different. While ‘Cut & Stitch’ was extremely atmospheric akin to Rolo Tomassi’s ‘Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It’, Petrol Girls have stripped the tracks back; it’s minimalistic in its arrangements and heavy on intricate riffs from guitarist Joe York. From the opening feedback of instrumental ‘Scraps’, it drops straight into the tingling riff of ‘Preachers’ which is paired with Aldridge’s smirking lyrics.

Taking on what she sees as a lack of nuance in the radical left community, Aldridge swipes at the holier-than-thou attitude some individuals have, sneering “There’s a lot of preachers here but I don’t see no saints”. The kind of black humour Petrol Girls have taken towards this record prevails again in the proudly pro-choice lead single ‘Baby, I Had An Abortion’, and the grooving ‘Clowns’.

The former, albeit not being the lightest of topics, is delivered in an almost celebratory tone with Aldridge belting out the triumphant chorus. And, in her own words, she found it to be “really fun {…} to rhyme incubator with see you later”.

However, like with other Petrol Girls records, when it’s time to take on the heavier subjects, they are dealt with in a brutal and punishing fashion. ‘Fight For Our Lives’, on which Aldridge co-wrote the lyrics with feminist activist Janey Starling, deals with the horrific rates of femicide and is delivered in a highly-charged, emotional manner which demands change, all cut to the sounds of guttural vocals and sharp guitars.

It’s followed by the equally intense ‘Violent By Design’ which focuses on police brutality. “Whose law? Whose order?”, Aldridge screams as she questions the role of the thin blue line. At a time when the UK public’s trust in the police, especially after the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving policeman, is strained, it’s a poignant song. Aldridge ends it with the simple statement of “ACAB, they don’t protect me”.

Closer ‘Bones’ is a more reflective track and is a bit of a departure from the rest of the album. It’s a little more melodic and combines delicate harmonies between Aldridge and York, putting a satisfying bow on another impressive record.

‘Baby’ is Petrol Girls at their minimalistic best – tongue-in-cheek when they want to be, and powerful and defiant when they need to be. In a world crumbling around us, it’s records like these that are more important than ever.

TOM WALSH

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