REVIEW: Royal Blood – Royal Blood (2014 Japanese version)

ROYAL BLOOD – Royal Blood (2014 Warner Music Japan, three bonus tracks)

Bass and drum duos are all the rage, but it’s all about the songs.  You can do a lot with just those two instruments as it turns out.  Royal Blood’s palette of sound is also of the bass and drum duo persuasion, and they have the songs too.  Their 32 minute (43 minute on the Japanese with bonus tracks) debut album has enough good tunes that you won’t notice there are only two guys playing.  The tunes are all short, tight and to the point.

Mike Kerr (bass, vocals) and Ben Thacker (drums) have been praised by luminaries such as Jimmy Page for this fine debut album.  When someone like Jimmy Page excitedly declares he’s a fan, I don’t care who you are — you gotta check them out.  Royal Blood composed a series of tightly arranged riffy songs, with some serious heft.    Riffs such as the one on “Come on Over” sound nothing at all like bass.  Kerr squeals high notes out of his bass like it’s nothing, all while pouring it all into his singing simultaneously. The dude possesses the pipes necessary to infect his songs full of angst.

Check out the tense “Figure it Out”, their best single so far. Thacker keeps himself busy on the drums, working with the song not against it. Everything these guy do serves the song. “Figure it Out” had to be one of the best rock singles of 2014, expertly crafted for maximum rigidity and plutonium hooks. Every song delivers sturdy riffs, understated vocal melodies, and plenty of taut rock action.

The songs are on such a level that only a few stand out above the others. “Figure it Out” is the obvious one, but a few others impress as highlights. “Little Monster” (also a single) isn’t forgettable, and “Ten Tonne Skeleton” immediately reminded me of Them Crooked Vultures. “Loose Change” shakes things up by going slightly funky with some electronic drum effects. These guys don’t waste their time farting around. They slam you with the riffage, bang bang bang, and they’re done. Of course with a band of this configuration, the songs are composed with plenty of space between the instruments, and that adds to the heft of it all.

When the CD ends after “Better Strangers” we are treated to three Japanese bonus tracks. “Hole” is from the first Royal Blood EP Out of the Black. Its slow Soundgarden-Nirvana grunge is notably less crisp sounding than the album at large, but holy cow — this is heavy shit! Right out of 1992. “You Want Me” was lifted from the single for “Come on Over”. This is upbeat hard rocking fun. The final track “Love and Leave it Alone” is from the “Figure it Out” single, and it may be one of the best songs here. It’s interesting that the bonus tracks offer more variety than the album itself, which is a good enough reason to own them. Each of these tracks is different and deliciously good.

Get some Royal Blood in ya.

4/5 stars

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20 comments

  1. This is cool, I wanna check it out. First time I became aware of a band doing this (just drums, a bass guitar and vocals) was when we saw Big Business open for Tool on the 10,000 Days tour. I gotta be honest, I didn’t like them, it was just noise (and I like a lot of things that are just noise!). I’ll happily take the recommend on a good act, though! Thanks!

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    1. Gotcha! I figured that’s what you meant. I never heard of Big Business. I suppose with drums, bass and voice you could make a lot of noise. I’m glad Royal Blood didn’t go that route! It’s about the spaces between as much as the heavy bass.

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  2. I’ve struggled to get into these folks. Think maybe the hype has been the reason I just haven’t really dug them. Too many folks saying they are the best new thing. Some good grooves for sure, but something’s amiss (don’t say guitar!). Might revisit, though.

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    1. Fair enough! Over here there is no hype at all. I wouldn’t call them the best new thing, but certainly not a bad new thing. Hype can really sour it though can’t it? If you’ve heard the songs a zillion times…

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      1. It can, yeah. Often left disappointed when what you’re hearing is a tad ordinary. If you have space for another drum and bass driven combo, may I recommend The Fire And I? They’re pretty great.

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