"Judgemental" by Abz WinterReview
There is no "one size fits all" aspect to how I end up reviewing music for the magazine (that would be very dull): some material I have the luxury of much time to explore & try to find the right words to describe to you; I have just completed a review of an EP I've been listening to for five days now & which I am very excited to be sharing with you in eight days time.
While I was putting the finishing touches to that one, a prime example of the other extreme (that is a single I had no prior inkling of) caught me by surprise as Abz Winter kindly sent me a copy of her new single "Judgemental" which will be out on 18th August & such was its impact that I had no choice but to start collecting my thoughts immediately.
And the sheer innate immediacy of "Judgemental" is one of its many first impressions.
I find myself increasingly breaking my own (self imposed) rule to avoid dubbing a track "an artist's best" so perhaps I'd better ditch it in the face of overwhelming evidence that so many local musicians whom I write about do progress & so top their earlier work, though I reiterate that if I do describe anything in this way, I certainly do not want to give the impression that if this work is arguably their best to date, I think any the less of what came before.
I do have to consider saying so about "Judgemental" though… It reminded me of the impact her 2019 single "Incompatible Me" had on me. It shares many of the same ingredients: freshness, unexpectedness, zestiness & its performer barely able to contain herself singing it.
Abz made a big impact right from the start of her career ("Incompatible Me" was by no means her first release) and the core values & attributes of great voice, positive personality, refusal to write clichéd lyric etc marked her out at once. Musically, I think she took the right path: for a teenager (she is still only 20 now), it was right to swing more towards contemporary pop sounds than to go too retro, though it's interesting that even so, after a brief early period using recorded tracks live, she moved on to working with guitarists like Ian Bourne & Will Ball: and the songs sounded just as good with one voice & an acoustic guitar.
Given the character of her lyrical style though, I feel that she has come to a natural home now with a frankly more punky & in your face arrangement to complement her words. The direction sign here is definitely pointing towards a full (rock) band.
Opening with a couple of bars of pure Banshee (early era) guitar, Abz throws herself headlong into the song (which would have sold well in 1977 with this sound), evoking memories of the full-on-and-more of so many singers of that era: Fay Fife, Ari Up, Lesley Woods etc. Thankfully she has the youth & stamina to keep this up for two & three quarter minutes (even the length is spot on!) while the music hurtles along with her, managing to keep up (just) and moving towards the pop-punk side of things by keeping a pleasing melody going amidst the ruckus: a sort of 2023 descendant of Blondie circa "Rip Her To Shreds".
If this musical approach seems wholly appropriate for the direction Abz has been travelling in, so do the lyrics, which are in their way a culmination of a calling-out theme she's pursued over the past few years. Pretty much all of them were directed at specific individuals: those who had hurt her friends & latterly those who'd crossed her herself. "Judgemental" may have its roots in one person & it certainly aims itself at a "you", but in this context it works much more broadly: a universal "you". On top of all that Abz continues to pull off one of her trademark touches & that is to keep the criticism non-malicious: you can almost hear the smile on her face as she gleefully delivers the cutting lines and this sort of approach has always been one of her most endearing characteristics.
This is Abz's most significant singles: possibly the key one. A culmination of all she's previously done & step one on a new & very exciting road. That the song is as catchy as, well anything, should appeal to the gatekeepers of the media playlists. It certainly does to me.