Album Review: Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

By on Monday, 19th June 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Royal Blood How Did We Get So Dark album coverIn the days leading up to me writing this review, I think my subconscious wanted to be sure it got a say in the final piece. The kick arse riff of ‘Loose Change’ woke me up a few mornings in a row, reverberating through my head as a reminder of how good the 2014 debut album from Royal Blood really was. And how far they could fall from grace with a lacklustre follow-up. The title ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ suggests we’re about to descend into the murky, sometimes maniacal recesses of bassist Mike Kerr’s anguished heart once again. The good news is, the devil may care duo from Brighton do well in expressing this anguish. The bad news: the oddest part of listening to this album is you are left wondering many times if they could have gone darker, literally.

Axeman vocalist Kerr moans in the opening title track, “How did something so sweet tear us apart?” The question is, are ready to ride “On a sinking ship with a heavy heart” for a second time around? My guess is if you’re reading this, you are probably a hard rock fan who owns ‘Royal Blood’ and have been chomping at the bit for this. As all good major label signees do, they promoted the upcoming album heavily with early tasters. Excellent first single ‘Lights Out’ (review here) suggested we’d have another tour de force on our hands in 2 months’ time. The punishing guitar melody and drumbeats of ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’ sounds oh so good too, but with the headscratching lyric “my love calls like a whistle”. Uh, I’m going to leave that one there…

Before the new Royal Blood album hit digital retailers and the high street last Friday, my reaction to most recent taster ‘I Only Lie When I Love You’ gave me the gut feeling I wouldn’t be loving this album like their last. While you expect Kerr’s vocals to be bracing – I mean, that’s what’s singing on hard rock records is, right? – on this track, they’re borderline annoying. The title is sung as essentially one note repeated, with an inflected whine on the end of the line. Because you know what the song is about, mind games in a physical relationship (“you only cry when I love you / I only lie when I make a sound”), maybe the annoying repetition is intentional? I can’t imagine playing this song repeatedly, though, for that reason. (If you recall, ‘Out of the Black’ is similar vocally too, so it’s like this is ‘Out of the Black’-Lite.) Unfortunately, ‘She’s Creeping’ that follows does not bring things back up to debut album calibre. What will annoy this time is Kerr’s guitar line acting as the only prominent accompaniment to his lyrics that seem painfully directed to mobile-clutching millennials: “Did my message send? / God knows I’ll send it again”. And let’s not forget the lack of muscle and firepower over all on the track. Let’s forget this track altogether.

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Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher manage to pull things back on ‘Where Are You Now?’, with noteworthy riffing and Kerr’s lovelorn words: “I’ve tasted every potion / it don’t taste like you / you’re a teardrop in an ocean / still drinking through”. ‘Hole in My Heart’ starts unpromisingly and the verses aren’t exactly rousing, but the choruses don’t let you down, with both Kerr and Thatcher delivering swift punches with their instruments. You just wish they could have kept up with the same level of intensity throughout this entire album. Without it, you’ve got some really great, down and dirty tracks dotting an otherwise mostly unremarkable landscape.

By no means is this second outing a whimper, but questionable decisions here and there will make you wonder whose wisdom in the Royal Blood camp it was during recording and production that led them to dial it back a bit.

6/10

Royal Blood’s second album ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ is out now on Warner Brothers. They’ll be embarking on an arena tour of the UK and Ireland in November. To see more of TGTF’s coverage on the Brighton hard rock duo, right this way.

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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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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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