Originally published and still available on CLAMOUR (29/08/14).
To see the musical moniker of your current creative outlet morph onto the UK’s biggest year’s end list – the BBC’s Sound of … poll – must, no doubt, be conveyed with acute trepidation, especially if your band is dubbed ‘rock’s last hope’ in a swamp of predominantly mainstream electronica, R’n’B, wet ballads and acoustic acts. It is enough to make a rock purist sob, and as they pinned their hopes on Royal Blood – the only act on the list that has their guitar plugged in and the dial amped up – ‘alternative’ magazines were quick to be the first to muscle the band up to the mantle. Both the weight of media promise and the expectation of peers and punters can often seep into hyperbole, and for a band that has ascended far quicker than any could have foreseen, the pressure is on for Royal Blood to rise to the challenge that has befell their fates.
What the critics apparently found appealing in the Brighton duo they sure have in spades. As is wise in such a situation of high rotation, the pair – vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher – make quick work of their singles, with ‘Out Of The Black’, ‘Come On Over’ and ‘Figure It Out’ done away with in raucously rapid succession. Whilst these tracks succeeded in stomping Royal Blood’s name through press-spheres like a baby Godzilla, what follows proves that the band potentially have more longevity than many could have hypothesized. Their arena sized anthemic rock gives way to a shockingly blues-tinged sound, albeit one that is coined by the mating of a bass and a menagerie of mystery guitar pedals; you can almost hear them humming. This gives birth to a surprisingly eclectic journey; ‘You Can Be So Cruel’ squawks and murmurs around its frisky rhythm before being sucker-punched by the sullenly enticing ‘Blood Hands’, and the pop cannonade of ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’ is a barrage worthy of hitting repeat.
Whilst creating such a full-bodied sound akin to bands more than double their number does carry an irrevocable novelty, it is also the ball and chain for which Royal Blood must contend. Getting a squealing riff out of a bass guitar – such as in ‘Careless’ – is undeniably impressive, as is the tone, however there is only so much variation that a rhythm section can concoct. Whether intentionally or not, Kerr often plays parallels with modern-day ringmaster of blues, Jack White and whilst it would be crass to dub Royal Blood a poor man’s The Dead Weather, they carry a mainstream accessibility that is far less threatening than the bizarre auteurship that White conveys. There are moments, most prominently in ‘Loose Change’, where it is possible to completely forget that you are listening to Royal Blood and not White himself as Kerr barks and bites his way through three minutes of scuzzy blues.
There is something about being a two-piece that sees the band in question either remaining a novelty or instead be considered with an impressive gall. In setting themselves this challenge, Royal Blood put up an incredibly impressive fight, and whilst they may not be innovators of a new alternative movement, this is moody and chundering rock at its most belligerent. Give it your time of day.