There’s a real sense of familiarity when it comes to Britain’s Royal Blood. First of all, there’s the name in what’s becoming a crowded field. There’s a Royal Wood, a Royal Canoe, a Royal Forest, and so on and so forth. Then there’s the band’s sound. Comprised of singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher, who replaced drummer Matt Swan, this is a two piece blues/garage rock outfit. Can you say Jack and Meg? Granted, Royal Blood’s debut self-titled album is pretty polished and without the fuzziness that would characterize this sound, but, still, two-piece blues rock bands are pretty much a dime a dozen these days in the wake of the White Stripes. However, this is a band that’s making waves. You know you’ve gotten attention when a bigger band wears your logo at a major rock festival. In this case, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders was seen wearing a shirt supporting the band at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival concert, long before the group had even issued a first single. Not surprisingly, Royal Blood would go on to support Arctic Monkey at a couple of concert dates. So, yes, this is a band that is ascending, and people are standing up and taking notice, even if the group’s name and sound are a little generic.
This may come as quite the revelation, but listening to Royal Blood reminds me of the first time I heard the Darkness’ Permission to Land, not in sound but in feel. While the Darkness was looking backwards at glam metal, Royal Blood has that Led Zeppelin-y cadence to their sound, so you walk away feeling the retro-infused waves for sure. There’s a little AC/DC in some of the group’s riffs, too, and you may reach for modern-day garage rock acts such as Jeff the Brotherhood, too. In that sense, there’s a fair bit going on with Royal Blood, even if this doesn’t reinvent the blues rock genre in the way that, say, Canada’s the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer brings a pop sheen to the table. In fact, if there’s a deficiency to Royal Blood, if you’ve heard one of their tracks, you’ve heard them all. Now multiply that by 10, and you get their album. However, Royal Blood is pretty good at their one or two riffs that they constantly mine throughout their debut, and if you’re looking for a disc to party out to, you could do no wrong in picking this up. The guitars crunch as though you’re walking on a pile of dead leaves. The melody of the group’s “song” will certainly make you nod your head, or pump your fist in the air. So, as far as this stuff goes, it’s not too shabby, and Royal Blood will make you want to rock out with your you-know-what out and the world certainly needs those types of bands.
There’s a certain sexiness and swagger to these songs (or “song”) that would make Mick Jagger envious. “Little Monster” boasts the following come-on: “I’ve got love on my fingers / Lust on my tongue.” Money also plays an important role on Royal Blood. There’s a reference to “blood from an empty pocket”, buried under layers of guitars, on first cut “Out of the Black”. This is followed up by “Loose Change”, which boasts “your money don’t fold.” So that might lead one to believe that Royal Blood is somewhat materialistic, and, given their rather rapid ascent, that may be true: they’re now playing the likes of the Reading Festival and, of course, Glastonbury. But you can ignore that, for the guitars are amped right up to 11 and the drums hit the skins like a demented demon. Basically, you can focus on that one riff and get carried away. The guitars churn on “Come On Over” with a threatening strum, and they pretty much do the same thing on follow-up track “Figure It Out”, which has a real blues strut to it. “Blood Hands” is interesting, as there’s a similarity in guitar sound to Guided by Voices’ “Don’t Stop Now”. “Ten Tonne Skeleton”, on the other hand, would almost pass for a Franz Ferdinand song, the riff is that similar, but Franz Ferdinand would never rock out quite so hard.
Overall, Royal Blood is a fun record, even if it doesn’t have a great deal of sonic variation and the outfit seems like an old dog, instead of a new one, in that you really can’t teach it new tricks. If Royal Blood gets popular enough, you could see these songs wind up on a karaoke night playlist, as these are songs that are meant to be belted out and sung with gleeful abandon. Royal Blood rocks, and rocks quite hard. Whether or not, to quote from the Rolling Stones here, you get your rocks off on this, depends on how much familiarity you can handle. It might have been nice if Royal Blood threw in a ballad or pop tune or two just to shake up the recipe a bit, but their album comes across with a sense of purpose, even if that’s just to make sure that your home stereo speakers get the best workout that they possibly can. Royal Blood might not be reinventing the wheel here, but you’ll come away bruised and battered after listening to this – maybe not in an Andrew W.K. kind of way, but more in a good, ol’ fashioned clean kind of way. There’s heft and muscle to these songs (or, yes, “song”) and the album is a good taster for what these guys must sound like live: they’ve got to be killer and blow their peers away. Whether or not Royal Blood catches on remains to be seen, but they’ve got friends in high places and are now playing some high profile gigs. With any luck, this will find an audience, and I believe they will, but it’s just a matter of how Royal Blood grows from here. There’s only so much you can do as a duo, after all.
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