OK, let’s get this out of the way: Royal Blood sound like The White Stripes. They do. Do all rock duos sound like the White Stripes? Absolutely not. Does this one? Of course. Sometimes it’s the vocal melody, sometimes it’s the instrumentation, but it’s usually there. Anyway, when Mike Kerr returned from a trip to Australia in 2013, he was picked up from the airport by his friend Ben Thatcher. In the car, they decided to form a band. The next day they played their first show. Now they’re signed to Warner Brothers and are about to release their eponymous debut album.
Said record opens with the bombastic “Out Of The Black”. Mike Kerr’s bass, strung with guitar strings, sets the tone of the record in the first few measures: powerful, muscle-flexed riffs. “Come On Over” continues the theme. It sounds like the bits of Muse that you don’t feel embarrassed about liking. In fact, there are a couple of moments on this album that recall the carefree, cut-loose riffage of “Stockholm Syndrome”. It’s a strong opening, and a compelling introduction to the band.
Technically though, the album’s mixing lets the record down. The bass/guitar sounds have weight, the drums pound, but the vocals just sit right on top. Like someone sitting on their overly-packed suitcase, trying to zip it up; the vocals smother the songs. It’s a major-label mix, designed to elbow its way through an unreliable FM radio signal. There are moments when Kerr and Thatcher cut loose and rock out. These sections are clearly the high-point of their highly-rated live set, when the carefully crafted tension is released. On the record though, the instruments are so smothered by the vocals that when Kerr’s voice drops out, the rock out moments just feel like empty space until the next chorus, which is backwards.
The middle of the album does its best to make up for this. The White Stripes influence is still a focal point, but there’s more in there too. There’s a nod to the youthful swagger of early Queens Of The Stone Age and, while the vocal melodies can sound a little basic or over-familiar, it’s a small price to pay for getting to hear instruments played like this in the mainstream. Single “Little Monster” seems designed for the main stage at Glastonbury after-dark; a melody that’s simple enough that you don’t need to hear it twice to sing along, backed by a mosh-pit ready chorus and drums you can air drum along to.
Then there’s “Careless”, an Icky Thump B-side. You can see why it didn’t quite make onto the Stripes’ sixth and final album, released in 2007. Jack White’s guitar playing treads the same ground as before and the melody is a little phoned-in too. Lyrically it’s classic Jack White: “I wish I cared less/but I’m afraid I don’t/You couldn’t care less/So I guess you won’t/Change your mind again.” Put simply, there’s just better songs that are better suited to th–oh wait a second, this might still be Royal Blood. Is this still Royal Blood? It might be actually. Whoops, never mind.
Royal Blood can be judged in two different ways, depending on what records you consider are its peers. Is it as good as the White Stripes in their prime, or the best Queens of the Stone Age? No. It lacks the presence, or the sense of importance that those records have. Is it refreshing to hear songs like this on the Radio 1 A list alongside David Guetta and Ed Sheeran? Sure! Of course it is. There’s a band made up of only a drummer and a bassist who are playing riff-based songs to a group of people young enough to not know what music was like before Michael Jackson died. Royal Blood’s debut is an easily digestible, unfortunately thin-sounding, slightly disappointing rock record and an exciting, fresh, invigorating pop record both at the same time.