I’m a little late to the dance, but I’ve spent the past couple weeks immersed in Royal Blood. The first few spins left me thinking that if Josh Homme were singing, I wouldn’t doubt this to be a QOTSA record. But I kept at it. The next comparison I made was to Middle Class Rut. Two dudes. Similar crushing rock sound. But still … something wasn’t the same.
Royal Blood, from Brighton, in the south of England, has catapulted singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher to the Big Stage. Their self-titled debut was released last August to accolades – reportedly the fastest selling British rock debut record in the past three years. In February, they won “Best British Group” at the Brit Awards.
Now, Royal Blood has caught fire in the U.S. They’ve played SXSW and Coachella among other notable gigs and are set to tour with Foo Fighters here and abroad. Their video for “Out of the Black,” featuring an apocalyptic, murderous, thieving oversized bunny, has been viewed well over a million times on YouTube. (It’s a must-see.)
So, about this album … Royal Blood, a bass and drums duo, has made a rock sound so huge it’s almost inconceivably the work of two men. In fact, I had to watch some live footage before I could believe there weren’t more band members hidden behind Marshall stacks. The formula is essentially drums up front, big vocal, and a bass that howls like a lead guitar. Royal Blood accomplishes the bigness of The Black Keys and then steamrolls right over them – without the extra band members. That’s not to say they won’t add some players on tour at some point, but right now it’s all for two and two for all.
I won’t break this down song by song, but I’ll draw attention to two tracks that illustrate the best traits of the album. “Blood Hands” opens with a brooding bass line and a confessional lyric. Soon Thatcher kicks in some big fills and Kerr starts riffing up the neck, bending some lightning into the notes. They hurtle through the middle eight with such a frenetic sound that it’s easy to forget the band is its own back line. A White Stripes comparison here is probably fair, and it’s certainly meant as a compliment.
“Ten Tonne Skeleton” could play in the club. Thatcher’s snare is as wet as an English afternoon. A simple disco beat prevails while Kerr sings:
Cut loose like an animal / Fired out like a cannonball / But I waited too long / Got high from a holy vein/ Crashed down in a hurricane / Love has been here and gone /
Two bass lines – a high, staccato lead and a low, heavy rhythm fool the ears into thinking you’re hearing two different axemen. But you’re wrong.
“Royal Blood” is an inspired, hungry, lean, massive rock album that will shake the walls of your listening room. Be ready.
The band plays Boulder Friday May 28 at the Fox Theatre.