Royal Blood make a giant sound for such a little band.
The duo that really delivers is not exactly a new phenomenon in popular phenomenon. From Eric B. And Rakim to The White Stripes, there are perfect pairings that create an undeniable magic so powerful that it translates into excellent music and successful recordings. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher do an awful lot with a bass guitar, a drum kit and a few effects pedals. On their sophomore release How Did We Get So Dark?, they do just a little bit more than they did on their now three-year-old debut – and that was already a strong debut.
The new record is just a little bit more mature, musically. The sound is a little bit tighter and seems just a little bit more straightforward. Like contemporaries Death from Above 1979, The Arctic Monkeys or arguably Danko Jones, part of the appeal of the band were the raw and far-reaching riffage of hit tracks like “Come on Over” and “Figure It Out”. On this record, the listener finds things are a little less raw and passionate. There’s a little bit more off deliberate nature of the pop hooks on “She’s Creeping” and the album’s title track. It really doesn’t do a lot to change the sound but when you listen to the bass line of “Look Like You Know” and recognize a similarity to the playful bounce of the theme to “Sesame Street”, you know that there’s a goal with this record that is to propel them from their trajectory of indie darlings to a mainstream rock audience.
“Where Are You Now?” is driven by a relentless cascading drum rhythm which propels the song through all the ordinary verses. The hook is actually a sort of prog-rock anthem which borrows from some traditional blues guitar patterns but never strays too far into a risky place. “Don’t Tell” on the other hand does enter some Black Keys territory which sees Kerr going further than ever and seeming confident in his use of the falsetto registers. The jam is a little slower on this number but the timing compensates for that by making it seem like a marginally slower break in the middle of an otherwise powerful hard rock ballad.
“Hook, Line and Sinker” picks up where the pace left off. Here Kerr sings in harmony with this own pitched up bass guitar but also gives plenty of room for expansion and improvisation. One of the most surprising songs on the album is “Hole in your Heart” which almost has a 70’s synth vibe to it. That idea is expelled quickly when things go back to all-out pop on the chorus.
Ten songs is not a generous record – particularly when they’re not long songs, but “Sleep” seems like a good way to close it. It’s slower paced and fuller bodied and layered that the lock-step rock rhythms that made up the rest of the record and indeed the band’s previous repertoire. This album is non-stop riffage through and through and those powerful air-guitar-inducing solos play over some pop-savvy vocal hooks which make you think Kerr is carrying the weight. But as with any duo, everyone’s got a role to play and Thatcher’s drumming is dynamic and plays along reluctantly like a practiced but impatient partner in crime.
The first single even before the album came out was “Turn the Lights Out” but it certainly won’t be the last we’ve seen off of this notable rock record which is likely to be called one of the best rock albums of the year. This year has been pretty slow for straight-forward, guitar-bending mojo so far – so we’ll take it. Royal Blood make a giant sound for such a little band.