Album Reviews

Grace Petrie – Build Something Better

(Robot Needs Home) UK release date: 8 March 2024

Protest singer, stand-up comedian and one of our finest chroniclers of the human heart is at the peak of her powers with a soundtrack for better times to come

Grace Petrie - Build Something Better We live in strange times. We’re ruled by corrupt politicians, sewage is clogging up our rivers and, most alarmingly, there seems to be a resurgence in hard-right political views. It’s quite understandable if you sometimes look around and feel disconnected from the rest of society. If you’re looking for someone to make sense of these surreal times, Grace Petrie has proven herself over the last 18 years as one of the most articulate protest singers in the country.

Petrie has also turned her hand to stand-up comedy recently (which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s attended one of her warm, witty and welcoming gigs), but Build Something Better sees her return to more familiar ground. Her ninth album has a claim to being her best record to date – no small feat when you consider her already impressive back catalogue.

As ever with Petrie, Build Something Better is a mix of both the political and personal. The ironically titled The Best Country In The World kicks the album off in stirring fashion – it’s a blistering five minute ‘state of the nation’ address (covering Brexit, climate change, and the cost of living crisis) that’s likely to leave you both despairing and inspired to change things. And if a line like “We would fight them on the beaches, but the beaches are full of shit” doesn’t make you laugh darkly, then nothing will. That’s followed by the sharp satire of The House Always Wins, which beautifully sums up the corrupt nature of modern politics with a line like “The first thing they teach at Eton is to recognise a mark,” which could well sum up our entire post-2010 national state.

For that’s the clever thing about Petrie – although her songs tackle heavy subjects, they are always delivered with a masterful lightness of touch, which means it never sounds hectoring. The gentle acoustic ballad King And Country beautifully sums up the distracting nature of politics’ culture wars with the lines “Another boat of refugees went down, let’s talk about pronouns, have you considered sleeping in your coats, at least we stopped the boats”.

Petrie’s keen eye is equally scathing when it comes to matters across the Atlantic. Meanwhile In Texas looks at the effects of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade (“Did you never think what we might lose, giving free reign to Fox News, and letting far-right ideologies become normal point of views?”), while the gorgeously wistful Start Again talks of how politics can both inspire and disappoint – and how, ultimately, we can only help each other.

The second half of Build Something Better reminds us that Petrie is also one of our finest chroniclers of the human heart. If I Were To Outlive You is already a contender for the finest love song of the year – a song which sums up, in a beautifully wry manner, the horror of losing a partner (“Please never go exploring unstable mountainsides, or hastily constructed fairground rides” is just one of the song’s many quotable lines), while Cynicism Free is a giddy, exhilarating ode to the rush of true love.

Fellow musician Frank Turner is a long-term supporter of Petrie’s music so he’s a good choice as producer, framing these songs in a manner that’s both raw and angry while remaining very accessible. And the quality of these songs means that your favourite track is likely to change with each listen. Build Something Better is the sound of Grace Petrie at the very peak of her powers, and is, hopefully, a soundtrack to better times to come.

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Grace Petrie – Build Something Better