Saviours of British rock grow up but stay true to themselves.
The success of Royal Blood’s 2015 debut album was widely cheered as evidence of the continued relevance of rock music in the face of pop’s incessant onslaught. But it might also be argued that this spirited yet limited LP showed just how far the genre had fallen, with the Brighton duo’s reheated histrionics unashamedly indebted to the ghosts of rock and roll past.
Both viewpoints had merits. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher were nobody’s idea of boundary breakers, their songs coming off as canny splicings of Metallica (who naturally became fans) and Jack White (who naturally did not). Yet, their childlike glee was a selling point – when last did a pair of old schoolmates put themselves before the world, motivated only by the desire to make the foundations rattle?
Second time around, things are inevitably more calculated. How Did We Get So Dark? was assembled across a three-month stint in Los Angeles, followed by studio time at their base on England’s south coast. Initially, the plan was to tinker with the recipe, adding synthesisers and guitars to the basic formula of drum and bass (which, as manipulated by the talented Kerr, sounded like several guitars anyway).
However, with these early experiments failing to cohere, Kerr and Thatcher reverted to their core values of cluster-bomb drumming, meat cleaver riffs and vocals that suggested karaoke hour at the biker bar.
Single ‘Lights Out’ sets the tone for what is to follow: it’s a sweet, sharp shock of a tune, with Kerr’s half-crooned vocals hinting at a low-rent Muse (it apparently sprang from their desire to write a punk anthem in the style of Daft Punk).
In addition to this wish to stay true to the group’s underlying values, the other theme is the singer’s torrid romantic life. He’s been through the odd break-up or 10 these past several years, as he relays on ‘I Only Lie When I Love You’ and ‘Hole In Your Heart’ – the soul-searching in each case fused to stomping chords and pile-driver melodies.
The finest second albums re-state a band’s reasons for existing while pointing to potential for future artistic growth. By those standards, How Did We Get So Dark? is an assured step. The songs are bigger, boomier and catchier, and Royal Blood are to be commended for holding firm to their in-theory limiting blueprint of voice, bass and drum. There’s a lot of sound and fury here: the relief is that by the end it adds up to something meaningful.
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