ROYAL BLOOD How Did We Get So Dark? (Warner) Riffs enough for ya? Though technically short a guitarist, with Mike Kerr playing a bass that is uniquely processed/heavily effects-pedal treated, British duo Royal Blood are, to borrow from Meaghan Trainor, all about the riffs, those riffs, on album number two. Kerr spills lines like a relentless production process as he motors and vaults, pokes and prods, razes and razors, lasers and tasers, while channelling ‘70s and ‘90s grind merchants, some Chinn/Chapman glam, fourth generation blues, hints of Frank Black, and the dreams of a boy fronting the mirror with his fingers dancing all over that tennis racquet/cricket bat/whatever was long and handy. Drummer Ben Thatcher is a thrilling power source who can swing to a certain extent, and is no mere beef-eating tub thumper with his playing entertainingly punch and counter-punch. That said, he doesn’t have the extra light touch which would put the heavy into different contexts. Like his permanently be-capped head, it’s all centre ground and little fringe for Thatcher, a regimental sergeant major of a drummer who can’t be faulted on his duty to push every song forward no matter what it might be facing. These elements were the basis of the often excellent self-titled debut from the Brighton pair, and while How Did We Get So Dark? expands the sound pool (harmonies/backing vocals, what may well be keyboards) Kerr and Thatcher are not reinventing their own wheel. Melodically - which is by no means his strength yet as the all beef and English mustard of I Only Lie When I Love You and Sleep remind - Kerr doesn’t stray from a straight and narrow path.
However, his singing is more varied: taking him high, growly, squeezed and sometimes approaching a kind of uncultured seductiveness. She’s Creeping is like a touching-on-falsetto take on Abbe May’s Are We Flirting – R&B bump-n-grind, though with a power pack instead of a fanny pack, as the Americans might say – but it doesn’t have the same slinkiness of the Australian. Still, credit to them for looking to get some action happening below the hips. At their best here, such as Where Are You Now? and the title track, the propulsion is rhythmic enough to feel like the metronomic introduction to a dance even as the guitars smack you about.
Lights Out is one of several which sound like son of Queens Of The Stone Age, or maybe cousin of Arctic Monkeys (after they worked with QOTSA’s Josh Homme), their mix of swagger and power leavened by memories of pop suggesting a future path. But if they do take that path you’d not want them to abandon chunky battering rams such as Hook, Line & Sinker and Hole In Your Heart. They can thrill and remain at the heart of Royal Blood as much as the riffs, the riffs.