25 Aug 2014

Royal Blood / Royal Blood (album review)


When you're a two-piece, the trouble can often be that you can't do enough to make a whole album interesting. The White Stripes are, of course, the greatest of these bands and with six brilliant albums they prove that it's not at all difficult to make a great album as a rock duo. As do the likes of Japandroids, Death From Above 1979, and even the Black Keys on their first few albums. But where talented two-pieces often fall short, like Drenge before them, is by not having anywhere near enough dynamic variety to make an album, however full of good songs, interesting.

As a band, Royal Blood certainly are interesting. I mean, under the circumstances anyway. Their fanbase and commercial success is built almost solely around the fact that they're Arctic Monkeys' pals. I mean, ask anyone big on Royal Blood how they came to listen to Royal Blood, and chances are the words 'Arctic Monkeys' - with whom they share management - will come into the equation. And just one look at both members of the band, clad head to toe in ill-suiting leather jackets and 'shades', shows that they're clearly more than a bit influenced by High Green's finest Elvis impersonators. So, the debut from Royal Blood is not only a chance for Royal Blood to flaunt their 'future headliner' pedigree, but to step out of the brilliantine drenched shadow of Arctic Monkeys.

Royal Blood opens with Out of the Black. Whilst the song highlights the togetherness of the whole operation, it also exposes the album's potential flaws too. Whilst it rocks hard and with a bit of pace, it's very average and it also shows anyone listening just how well the frontman can sing. It makes you think, maybe they could get a fella in to play guitar... and also write the songs... and sing the songs.

The albums two high points follow suite, however, and they're Royal Blood's two hit singles. Come On Over features a genuinely brilliant riff, and gets the blood racing; "hey!", you'd think, "this genuinely might be a really good album". Their next hit single, Figure It Out, is again quite a good little ditty. It's not sophisticated, it's not clever, but in Figure It Out Kerr's vocals (this time he's trying to sound a bit like Jack White) and the romping music make it apparent just why Royal Blood are the commercial success they are. If Royal Blood doesn't wow critics, it'll certainly shift more units than most other things. 

Other highlights come from songs released before the album. Loose Change, the shortest and most direct song, is possibly the best song. Kerr gives us some pretty brilliant bass-work, which does genuinely account for no guitarist. And the sound of loose change being dropped at the end of the track is a nice touch; Royal Blood is very well produced.

However, the less interesting moments not only make you question how good Royal Blood are, but they make you question what a great two-piece is. Mike Kerr really can't sing, which puts emphasis on the deep repetitive basslines, and the drumming is very over the top. Maybe not over the top by standards of rock music on the whole, but Ben Thatcher's drumming dominates a lot of the wafer thin sound throughout the album tracks. Perhaps, as Meg White shows, simplistic drumming is the way forward in such  bands. 

And the album is so staid all the way through. Once you've heard one song you have genuinely heard them all. For a cheaper price you could buy Figure It Out off of iTunes and make a playlist of it times 10. And it rarely takes advantage of what two-pieces like Drenge and Death From Above 1979 do best; sudden bursts of sound, and impromptu changes of tempo! Man, Royal Blood's album starts at a moderately fast walking pace, adopts a moderately fast walking pace throughout, and ends at the same pace at which it started. 

Royal Blood is by no means a bad album, but it is about as exciting as a Tuesday. It's devoid of excitement bar a few tracks, and the lyrics are quite clunky throughout, but it does tick all the boxes it needs to to be Radio 1's favourite new thing, and it's certainly a radio-friendly unit shifter for the major label Warner Brothers. It'll probably be the right cup of tea for some people, and it probably sounds quite good live, but ultimately it's thin sound and parochial soundscope, make it almost sickening that this band are going to be compared endlessly to The White Stripes. I mean, not only are they not a patch on the White Stripes, they're really not fit to kiss to ground on which Deap Vally walk. But still, it's not bad for a band that look what you'd imagine the rest of The Arctic Monkeys to look like, if you took away the soft focus on Alex Turner - which is mandatory with every photo of that band.


DETAILS
Out: Today! (25th August) on Warner Brothers
Producer: Royal Blood with Tom Dalgety - although Alan Moulder works on the mixing of Track 2
Listen to: Figure it Out, Loose Change. 
Rating: 11/20

(WRITTEN BY CALUM CASHIN)