by Tony Rounce
I made the acquaintance of Personal Best for the first time at LOUD WOMEN Fest 4. Their set was exhilarating – a sequence of beautifully constructed instant classics that made me a fan for life before their set was more than two songs old. It also made me angry with myself that I had never seen or knowingly heard them before, despite having been to gigs at which they had been on the bill in the past couple of years. As a penance for my oversight, I got up the following day and immediately bought every PB single, EP and album I could find. And I have been playing their latest LP “What You At” incessantly ever since.
A four (and, on record, sometimes five) piece based in Bristol, PB are fronted by Katie Gatt, energetic and personable with a clear and powerful voice and a smile a mile wide. The twin guitar attack of Gatt and fellow loud woman El Morgan has the stellar jangle of history’s greatest pop groups, from the Searchers to the Byrds to the Hollies to the Flamin’ Groovies to the Bangles, and Gatt and Morgan’s harmonies score pretty high on the ‘to die for’ scale too. PB’s superb rhythm section of Tom Baker (Bass) and Jason Cavalier (Drums) have the engine room on lockdown and provide the perfect base for Gatt and Morgan to build their joyful noise on.
On the face of it “What You At” is an album full of radio-friendly anthems, busting out all over with immediately ear-catching riffs and choruses that stick and stay in the mind right away. It’s only when you start listening to the verses that frame those choruses that you hear how deep these songs are and the full extent of the hurt that each one lays out, a chronicle of what one or possibly more broken relationships that can only be described as heartbreaking in the extreme.
The painted smiles of each 3-minute masterpiece here mask an ocean of tears that nobody should have to swim. If you’ve ever felt wronged in love, your grievances will pale into insignificance next to the knife-in-the-chest double whammy of the album’s closing tracks ‘One Damn Thing’ (‘Do You Both Sleep At Night In The Bedding I Bought You?’’) and ‘Salute’ (‘You Never Will Come Through For Me’). Nobody deserves that level of hurt. (Well, other than a member of the Conservative party, perhaps…)
That said, tracks like ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Every Day She Kills Me’ are the kind of perfect pop that mainstream radio would have once fallen over itself to play, before it got hooked on the aural tedium it pumps out hour after hour in 2019.
“Classic Rock For Tragic Lesbians” may be Personal Best’s strap line, but it’s really not necessary (or indeed obligatory) for anyone to be either or both to appreciate just what a superb album “What You At” is. It’s been out a couple of months now, but it’s never too late to catch up on something this good.
Which is where this review came in, really…
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