Album Review: Royal Blood – Royal Blood

By on Monday, 1st September 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Arguably, it has only been in less than the last 20 years that the dynamic hard rock duo (with minimal or no electronic intervention live, mind) has emerged not only as a potential but an entirely viable business proposition. Naturally, given the success of the now-defunct White Stripes and the currently riding high Black Keys, the media are quick – not to mention lazy – to compare Royal Blood to both. However, as easy as it would be to compare Ben and Mike to Dan and Patrick, there is one major difference.

Bass guitar vs. guitar.

You’re talking to a bass player, so there is no contest here for me. However, for the rest of you reading this who don’t share the joy and wonderment of playing bass, I will spend the rest of this review convincing you why Royal Blood’s self-titled album out this week is a major step forward for rock music in the 21st century and why you need this album. For starters, if you’re the kind of person who easily gets impatient and hates albums that seem to drag on forever, this one is predictably short. Mike Kerr (vocals / bass guitar) and Ben Thatcher (drums) aren’t the kind of guys to beat around the bush. For that reason alone, it’s a good “starter” album for those who don’t buy albums or haven’t bought an album in its entirety for a long time (*cough* pirates *cough*).

If you’ve been following the Royal Blood story for a while, three of the best tracks – ‘Out of the Black’, ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Come On Over’ – will be familiar to you from their appearance on previously released EP ‘Out of the Black’. The title track of the EP will probably be best remembered by this summer’s festivalgoers for Thatcher’s machine gun-style beats that usher in the song; they partner up remarkably well to the vitriolic, man scorned lyrics: “so don’t breathe when I talk / because you haven’t been spoken to / I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it / but a trigger for a heart beating blood from an empty pocket”. Contrast this later to ‘You Can Be So Cruel’, which is also filled with angst but in a self-harming, lonely manner, while recent single ‘Figure It Out’ wades into the muddy waters of relationship-based confusion.

A lot of people avoid hard rock albums on the sole basis that they think it’ll be cacophonous chaos, as if it’s impossible for hard rock to be melodic. Kerr manages to conjure amazing things from his bass guitar as well as be an entirely commanding frontman with his voice. Throughout the album, Kerr puts his voice through its paces and comes out as a winner. On ‘Come On Over’ and ‘Little Monster’, he is the convincing bad boy ready to melt the rock girl’s heart. (Yes, there were quite a few gals at their DC show fawning over both him and Thatcher. I had to open and close my eyes a few times, wondering, am I really at a hard rock show?)

The punishing yet melodic bass guitar playing from Kerr also deserves proper credit. When I first started playing bass, my mother asked me how bass differed from guitar; my response was, “you know how drumming doesn’t have notes? Bass is like playing drums; you’re playing rhythm, but with melody.” That explanation doesn’t really hold water when you’re describing Kerr’s skill on the axe. On ‘Come On Over’, if your ears can’t discern the lower register of his bass, you’d swear it was someone like Slash ripping it on his Les Paul. The authoritative bass riff on ‘Loose Change’ doesn’t beg for your attention, it requires it as you get sucked into the groove of the song.

Interestingly, one of the standouts of the album is ‘Careless’. In the lyrics, Kerr plays around with the nuances of ‘careless’ vs. ‘care less’ and during the verses and bridge, the bass takes a quieter backseat (for Royal Blood, anyway), letting the powerful chorus speak for itself. As the album closes, you can’t help but sense that Royal Blood’s road to becoming as big (or bigger?) than Led Zeppelin seems assured. Thatcher’s thudding drums, as about as gentle as a pneumatic drill, is paired with the sexy bass line of ‘Better Strangers’ and Kerr’s pained yet mesmerising wailing. In a word, awesome. Resistance is futile, my friends.

8/10

Royal Blood‘s self-titled album is out now on Warner Brothers. If you’re quick, you can catch Kerr and Thatcher playing live for Steve Lamacq on the 29th of August in the BBC 6music kitchen (I’m being serious) here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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