You got so dark because you turned the Lights Out…
*MATE THAT WAS A DOUBLE REFERENCE, GET BENT.*
In 2014, like every year since 1975, a gaggle of alternative music critics, desperate for attention, proclaimed, tears streaming down their eyes, “ROCK IS DEAD!!!!” (rock has never died, by the way). That is, until a duo from Brighton of all places came out of nowhere with an eponymous debut record that blew everyone’s cock off, and, like The Strokes before them and Nirvana before them, were heralded as “saviors of rock”. That duo was of course Royal Blood. I’ll admit, when I first heard their debut, I was a very big fan of it. That being said, it has very much mellowed out as my music tastes mature and I definitely don’t think as highly of it as I used to, even if it is a fine album.
Now, after three years of general silence, they’re back and this time they’re umm… a bit gay for Josh Homme, I reckon. Nonetheless, I’ve been anticipating this album quite a lot, mainly due to the stellar singles Lights Out and I Only Lie When I Love You being, in my opinion, two of the strongest songs the band has ever put out. It seems as if they’ve developed their surprisingly full and distinctive sound (especially for such a young, two-piece band) even further, but have they strayed too far from the formula? Let us find out…
The album definitely kicks off on strong footing with the eponymous track, How Did We Get So Dark?. From the get-go of the chorus, we are greeted with some definite QOTSA-influences, which is a defining feature of the album for me. I’m loving Mike’s vocals here, dabbling in falsetto at points (*cough* like Josh Homme *cough cough*). However, I was kinda disappointed by the ending of the song, which resorts back to the technique that was heavily utilised on their debut, just going full out on drum fills and bass solos. Kinda screams lazy songwriting, in my opinion, but a good song on the whole.
Then the album brings out its first big gun, lead single Lights Out. As soon as I heard this song for the first time (which I wrote about here), I knew that Royal Blood were looking to expand on their sound, adding more diverse songwriting techniques and structures to their arsenal. I still get that feeling today, with the bass work here being particularly wickeed. The devious offbeat spices things up as well, especially in the intro. However, his solo is what really sticks out for me as a highlight of the song, following all the rules for a good solo (1. Don’t mimick the verses (ala Smells Like Teen Spirit) 2. Stay familiar to the riff (ala Dani California) 3. Wig the flip out (ala Turn It Again)) to play with the big boys. However, if you think the drum part at 2:28 is a good solo, I will fight you.
And you thought I liked that one? Haha. Following that banger, comes my favourite song on the album and final single I Only Lie When I Love You. While a bit of a mouthful to say in casual conversation and I’m sure as hell not typing it out again, this track oozes an infectious swagger and attitude thanks to the groovy bass and devil-may-care vocals. I feel like this is a track where Mike comes into his own, rather than, to put it nicely, ripping off his influences to a degree. Wait, I just realised I haven’t even mentioned the drums yet (that’s because they’re not that notable on the first two but keep hush about that). The animal-like drumming here is, though simple, very catchy and danceable. It also helps that there is a healthy dose of cowbell in there, and we all like a bit of cowboy (cue Christopher Walken impressions from all the male readers).
So, we’re 3/3 going into the next track, non-single She’s Creeping. I know I said earlier about the QOTSA-influences on some songs, but this is the one where it is PROMINENT, like klansman-at-a-kwanzaa-party level prominent. Particularly, the first line of the chorus (“I’m just waiting for an answer to a question that I already know“) screams Queens in both lyrics and delivery, with Kerr again going in for a bit of falsetto. That being said, the effects-heavy bass work in the chorus stinks of the groove, putting it a cut above many of the songs on the record.
After this, we get to the first lacklustre track of the album in Look Like You Know. I mean, there’s nothing particular bad about this track in essence, but it just doesn’t have the same level of aural diversity as the rest of the album. We’re still getting a driving bass riff and hi-hat heavy drums, not very exciting to be honest. Also, the chorus was obviously written to accomadate the title, rather than the other way around, which bugs me.
Technically, technically, Lights Out wasn’t the first single from the album. That would go, technically, to Where Are You Now?, which was released last year on the Vinyl soundtrack. I’d say, ranking-wise, that it comes in between the highlights and the high-shites. When you take the two elements of the song, the verses and the chorus, apart, they’re both pretty good, with the rumbling, jungle drums being a particular highlight. However, it’s the putting them together that’s the problem, with an awkward kinda pause in between that really f*cks with the momentum of the song. Moreover, we’re dipping back into that QOTSA well again, this time with the guitar solo at the end (it might be bass, but I think that would be a stretch even for these guys) that is completely ripped off from Go With The Flow and so unashamedly that it’s annoying, as well as the backing vocals, which could also be remeniscent of something from Arctic Monkeys.
The following track, Don’t Tell, has a weird main riff that sounds kinda doom-y but at the same time has an poppy chord progression. This serves as the “sexy nocturnal” track of the album and kinda falls flat on that front, for me. The lyrics here are very basic and obviously try-hard-to-be-sexy, which was a problem with their debut, especially the single Little Monster (though that is great regardless). That, and the slow, sleep-walking tempo, are more likely to send me to sleep than make me wanna stay up all night.
After this, we have second single, Hook, Line & Sinker. Damn! This song is so frustrating for me. On one hand, it has one of the best, catchiest choruses from the band, with Kerr putting a bit more falsetto and fast delivery on his lyrics that just rolllllls off of the tongue. On the other hand, however, the verses and the main riff of this thing really just doesn’t gel with me, especially the opening verse. And, seeing that those parts take up more of the song’s run time, it’s gotta be on I’m throwing back.
ALSO, “CUS YOU KNOW I WON’T GO ‘TIL I’M GONE“? REALLY? THAT’S THE BEST LYRIC YOU COULD THINK OF????
Finally, we have the last two tracks of the record, Hole In Your Heart and Sleep. I thought I’d clump these two ‘cus I got similar points and we wouldn’t wanna stretch this into an in-depth review would we?
Both of these songs are classic Royal Blood in my eyes. Two high-energy but ultimately non-memorable bass riffs, vocal performances that I think still haven’t reached their fullest potential and some well-accomplished drumming. Not to say that either these songs are bad, I’d easily put them above Hook, Line & Sinker anyday, but, in a month’s time, I’m not gonna remember these tracks as a reason to go back and give it another listen.
Overall, if I had to use three words to describe How Did We Get So Dark?, they’d be “disappointing but promising”. This is obviously a band that are still working the creases out of their admittedly very recognisable sound, and I say “obviously” because this, at times, is a bit of a rough album, wearing its influences (QOTSA) on its sleeve to the point where I feel like I’m listening to a tribute band. However, we’ve got some proper little gems here as well, particularly the first half of the album, making up the best of the band’s discography. It’s very nice to see them develop a bit more from their debut and I had a good time while doing so, to be honest.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations