Albums of 2017: 4) Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

Quick summary: the alchemy continues.

When I reviewed the duo’s debut album (incidentally my top album of 2014) I was full of praise, but couldn’t quite see how they would follow it up. I mean it’s two fellas making a noise, how much variation can there be with a guitar and drum? Guitar and drum duo Drenge incorporated a bass player on their follow up album Undertow, and with Royal Blood being such hot property you wondered if their record company would want them to bolster the sound with more personnel. But somehow they’ve retained the structure and sound and produced a new set of songs that, although slightly more polished, continue in the same vein. Backing singers appeared on tour but the dynamic duo still fill the space of twenty.

Opening single, Lights Out, certainly hit the spot straight off – some extra harmonies but very Royal Blood with a signature guitar solo, and the tone of disappointment in love that runs through the album is set. It seems that Mike Kerr would rather be “with it alone” (does that mean what I think it does??) than spend time with someone who drags him down. The theme of the album, the “darkness” sets you wondering if there has been a destructive broken relationship which crops up repeatedly in the lyrics,”How did I become a lookalike of someone you used to love?” (from the title track) and “It’s so boring, being what you want me to be.” (She’s Creeping)

My favourite tracks are Where Are You Now, which starts pretty conventionally, “Always an honest boy, I was brought up right, fell for an honest girl, we were so tight, if only luck was on our side,” but mid song hits a series of chords which at first listen should never have been put together, but work beautifully. It’s the Royal Blood magic – Mike Kerr’s wizardry making wrong stuff right. Then comes Hook, Line and Sinker, starting in a very “up and down the notes” kind of way, but the chorus employs the Kerr falsetto (as if the man didn’t have enough to do with all the guitar and pedal genius) and some serious in and out guitar work where he seemingly switches with ease between his various guitar motifs. Hole in the Heart features a bit of keyboard work from Kerr. ENOUGH MAN, YOU’RE SHOWING OFF NOW!

Of course, however enjoyable this album is, it’s live that the band bloom into behemoths. The impact is tenfold when the notes thud through you toe to brain, frazzling your senses. And these boys go for the performance in a massive way, Mike Kerr is not shy of a dodgy shirt to add to the effect of showmanship, the guitar work is mesmerising, the drum solos are jaw dropping and exhausting, their energy a wonderful sight to see. Mike and Ben are not young teens who have been thrown into the spotlight unprepared, they have experience under their belts and it shows in their professionalism, hard graft and the sheer fun they get out of being Royal Blood. The video for the title track, for example, is literally nuts – driving around with massive shooters and little white bunnies everywhere – meaning what??? Somehow this confidence makes them really easy artists to enjoy following, and the fact that they fly the flag for accessible rock and roll is wonderful to see.

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