Review James Vizza | Culture


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It may seem a little late at the end of September to write a review on an album that came out on the last day in April, but the desire to write this review came suddenly and differently while earlier I wouldn’t really have thought of it to do . A sudden appreciation and reversal of happiness came like a violent storm that goes under the radar and pours in at the last minute. That could be a theme for this whole album for me.

Royal Blood is an English rock band of two from the southern city of Brighton, a bright, sunny seaside resort. Their line-up was formed in 2011 and consisted of front man-singer-bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. After their first single and EP, they became something of a sleeping giant in the hard alternative rock world. Her self-titled first album from 2014 exploded with a defiant energy and darkness with a sound reminiscent of what would happen if Queens of the Stone Age, the White Stripes and Led Zeppelin were all tossed into one room and played at maximum volume. Even more impressive than Thatcher’s manic yet stylish drumming was the fact that all of the riffs and solos were played exclusively on a four-string bass guitar, amplified by pedals and amps that let the sound of two players fill a room like five.

The group’s success came quickly. “Figure it Out” got as many plays on Spotify as some of the White Stripes’ biggest hits, and “Come on Over” got a scene from “Peaky Blinders”. Her 2017 follow-up “How Did We Get So Dark?”takes the same point of view and dominates, just like Greta Van Fleet, her corner of the alternative new hippie rock. Royal Blood was cited, which could hopefully be a revival of some real authentic hard rock for the 2020s.

It was disappointing to hear that the group’s newest album, Typhoons, would mark a major shift in their sound towards dance, pop and even disco. Would a move to lighter, catchier and more digital music be exactly the breakthrough the band needed, or a terrible leap into the shark that doomed this promising act to a pale imitation of popular music?

At first I thought the worst had mostly happened. The album is full of digital effects, funky disco drum lines, backup singers and 80s-inspired over-the-top guitar sounds. Even the album cover is neon red, in contrast to the atmospheric black and white illustrations of the previous two. But slowly but surely, “Typhoon” is developing from an overwhelming rainstorm to something that is more worthy of its title.

The key to how well the album works lies in the unique things that still make Royal Blood what they are, which can be heard in their most conventional song. Even though “Boilermaker” was written before most of the album in 2019, it somehow still fits. Produced by Josh Homme, the song feels like it’s at home on QOTSA’s similarly catchy 2017 album “Villains”,”but the song has a kind of punchy rhythm that brings it back to the hazy dance floor feeling. It also features what is closest to a traditional guitar solo on the album. Everywhere else there is a pop-inspired glitch or a quiet-to-loud bridge.

“The trouble is coming”and “Typhoons”are the outstanding singles who perfectly combine disco flair with a black keys buzz that gives the songs weight. Kerr’s ability to use his instrument as both a traditional rock and funk bass and standard guitar is fascinating. Her lyrics also set her apart, with honest explorations of fear, paranoia, and Kerr’s struggles with drugs and sobriety. “Million and One” begins with a synthesizer cascade that sounds exactly like a kind of Deadmau5 song, but is cleverly used to build up tension with a flowing guitar riff, and if you hold out long enough, there is even the famous drum break by Phil Collins ‘”In the Air Tonight”.

Even the weaker songs on the album are starting to meander into favor. The humor and cynicism of “Who Needs Friends” came through with its clever nod to “Stuck in the Middle with You”. Although it sounds like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at the beginning, “Million and One” keeps its stadium rock influences open. “All We Have is Now” brings the album to a decelerating end, a uniquely haunting piano ballad that would sound at home with Harry Styles. There are some really weak links, however. “Limbo” goes too far over the line in repetitive pop paragraphs and unoriginal digital fountain pens, enough to actually be a bit annoying. And although “Hold On” has a very fun music video with Colin Hanks, the support smells like too much effort while the lyrics sound completely over-spoken and the honesty or humor of the other songs lacking which is more like a bad motivational poster than royalty Blood song.

If you’d told me a few months ago that a band had really succeeded in mixing Led Zeppelin with Daft Punk, I would have laughed you out of the room. I now realize that Royal Blood did just that: an album that is much more than the sum of its parts. This album proudly wears its influences on the sleeve of a leather jacket and does something really new. “Typhoons” sheds a bright light on the future of this incredibly talented duo, even if it is the light of a disco ball.

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