Blondshell delivers a debut, self-titled album to remember, which sees the alt-rock star as far more than a mere ‘viral sensation’.
One of the most hyped names of recent months, Blondshell (real name Sabrina Teitelbaum), boomed into the scene via a TikTok, but not in the way you’d expect. Posted by someone else, showing nothing but a short clip of Blondshell performing the chorus of ‘Kiss City’ live, her raw vocals were enough to go viral.
Riding the wave through a series of stellar singles, into a deal with Partisan Records, and now crashing into her self-titled debut album, the Courtney Love-adjacent singer has never been the singer you’d expect to be derived from the social media platform that made her.
I’ll admit, for a moment, such origins made me doubt her. As a huge fan of early singles ‘Kiss City’ and ‘Sepsis’, by ‘Joiner’ she’d begun to lose my attention. With each track starting to follow the same pattern of slow build verses and booming, heavy guitar choruses, it grew tired. With lines such as “I’m going back to him / I know my therapists pissed”, it started to stray too close to Wet Leg territory, in which obvious skill is boiled down to little more than vapid, three-minute rhyming dictionary offerings. But now, finally hearing the full project, I’m not afraid to say I was wrong.
Well, to a degree. Diving in with a three-single sprint as ‘Veronica Mars’, ‘Kiss City’ and ‘Olympus’ open the album, it risked proving me right. But all three burst with promise. ‘Veronica Mars’ is an ambitious opener that manages to melt your face off in under two minutes, while ‘Olympus’ shows a softer side, starting to wade into the darker corners of Blondshell’s lyricism that are later revisited on the record.
‘Kiss City’ never stops being great, with its unassuming sound exploding into that final chorus and the unique lyricism that merges silly Gen-Z sentiment with literary wit. It’s a stunner on the one-thousandth listen, just as it is on that first spin.
Just as your sinking into your seat, perhaps worried this is all Blondshell has to offer, ‘Salad’ kicks in, demanding your attention. Starting with Nick Cave-inspired instrumentals, seeming to draw reference from tracks like ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ or any of his violent ‘80s albums, ‘Salad’ is instantly different, instantly darker and, in all honesty, a little scary.
Taking you a second to figure out what Blondshell’s even on about, as she hits the chorus above sharp keys, howling, “God tell me why did he hurt my girl” ‘Salad’ instantly becomes one of the most cutting, outright takes on rape culture I’ve ever heard.
Fantasising about getting bigger and stronger to take down the perpetrator, it builds a revenge story before pulling out of the fantasy for the gutting real-life image of justice falling flat (“And she took him to the courthouse / And somehow he got off / Then I saw him laughing with his lawyer in the parking lot”). The lyric “Gonna make it hurt / But I don’t know how to do that within the framework” so perfectly encapsulates the feelings of hopelessness attached to legal support for victims.
As one of the longest tracks on the album, ‘Salad’ shows exactly what Blondshell is capable of, taking the volume of prior singles and channelling it more consciously. It’s haunting in its brilliance.
Elsewhere, ‘Sober Together’ leaves me with the same feeling. On an album where six of the nine tracks have already been released as singles, there’s always the risk of the others feeling like nothing but filler. On Blondshell, it’s the opposite. The album tracks shine through, reassuring you there’s more to the artist than the singles display. ‘Sober Together’ is one of the best such examples, as a song that resists the temptation to fall into the same structure as the rest, as a raw, simple acoustic number.
Previously mentioned online about struggles with addiction, ‘Sober Together’ provides a new focal point to the album, reframing all prior releases. Singing “Call me, I wanna be there for you / But not in a way that lets you take me down with you”, it’s the antithesis of ‘Joiner’, with its chorus of, “I think I want to save you / I think I want to join in”.
The track shifts focus to addiction and recovery in a real way, making you rethink those older songs with considerations of trauma bonds in the way you rely on the love and replace one addiction with another. She explains it best on the final track ‘Dangerous’, singing “When I leave the house / Anything could take me down”, refiguring Blondshell as an album about upset, anger, addiction and cautiously picking yourself back up after being let down.
As a debut, Blondshell marks a tremendous start for Sabrina. The singles are catchy and effective, having hooked a huge 400,000-plus monthly listeners since the singer’s first release last summer. Each one has standout lyrics that make you laugh; tailor-made for Instagram captions and extra loud singalongs, they assert Blondshell as a fun new act. But as a full LP, we enter a complex world of social issues and personal struggles, and the humour we add to those things makes it manageable. Blondshell gives us more than I expected as an album, a sign to never underestimate Sabrina again.