In January, Brighton duo Royal Blood seemed like a tokenistic entry on the BBC’s Sound of 2014. The two twenty-nothing friends might have looked a little like a bearded Disclosure dipped in black Dylon, but they sounded like a riff factory, one cast adrift in a sea of more bankable singer-songwriters. Sure, Matt Helders, Arctic Monkeys’ drummer, was an early advocate. He wore a Royal Blood T-shirt onstage at Glastonbury 2013. But then the two bands share management.
Ultimately, you wouldn’t have bet on a two-man drums and bass outfit (as distinct from two-man drum’n’bass outfit) to be a goer, when the UK music industry was gearing up to sell one blue-eyed soul singer (Sam Smith) to the Americans while waiting for an album from another (Adele). A lower-than-low end distillation of Queens of the Stone Age and the White Stripes, Royal Blood’s sulky boogie is made by piston-like drummer Ben Thatcher and singing bassist Mike Kerr according to spartan values.
Direct and austere, there is little fat here. The opening bars of the album opener, their first single, Out of the Black, just drip with confidence. This sullen volley is made by a drumkit, a bass strung with guitar strings and a top-secret series of pedals and amps that can create surprisingly kaleidoscopic riffs. Ten Tonne Skeleton features a five-note hook that sounds like precisely nothing that usually comes out of a bass guitar. There is, Kerr avers, no overdubbing here, no studio trickery. Some money drops out of a pocket at the end of Loose Change, but that’s literally just the sound of coins falling on to a hard surface.
It’s a Dogme-like approach, one inherited – like a fair few other touches here – from Jack White. On a rough third of the songs, Kerr’s vocal and snaking basslines pack what you could politely term a very familiar White dynamic. “I wish I cared less/ But I’m afraid I don’t,” declares Kerr on Careless, before his guitar-bass hybrid (buitar? gass?) spits out a blues lick which is answered by a rock riff.
On the rest, another recognisable source flashes red – Queens of the Stone Age. Kerr openly talks of how Josh Homme’s unshowy, non-metal singing influenced his own approach. This album contains Royal Blood’s most actionable nod to date in You Can Be So Cruel, which borrows both circular riff and succubus croon from Homme. It actually sounds pretty great, not least because it’s been a while since the Queens have made a record you could dance to.
Despite the riffs, Royal Blood is no work of metal; in its tautness and execution it has far more in common with groove-based successes such as the Black Keys than it does with heavy music. Muse fans will find their antennae pinging here too; there really are a number of parents on this young band’s birth certificate. Despite those swinging weather vanes last winter, Royal Blood have surged forward as one of the year’s genuine breakthrough acts, gigging like demons, accreting YouTube views and celebrity fans in Foals, Muse’s Matt Bellamy and even Jimmy Page. Happily, their self-titled debut album sounds just like it should – a muscular expansion on the sound of their four preceding singles and EP. They’re not a patch on their illustrious predecessors yet – hell, they’re not a patch on Deap Vally– but debt is a funny thing in rock. A great deal of it can be written off if the end result is a pleasure.
Written By Kitty Empire