What makes a great rock band? Is it having a smorgasbord of influences? A catalogue of great riffs that burrow into your head? Or rather do you have to have a distinctive sound? Well, if you go by any of those three criteria, Royal Blood may now well be your answer. After a four-year break, the Brighton-based bass-and-drum duo is back to doing what they do best: creating a collection of true 21st-century rock. Typhoons is their third record and the follow-up to their previous British No. 1 albums, Royal Blood (2014) and How Did We Get So Dark (2017).
The new record’s opener and first single, ‘Trouble’s Coming’, stamps down their trademark, with its smooth drum breakdowns pairing well with the track’s focus on facing one’s demons. What’s particularly delightful are the little synth-like strings that accompany the crunchy bass, as well as the dreamlike, piano-backed B-section. ‘Oblivion’ follows, which starts particularly reminiscent of El Camino-era Black Keys, but then twists its own tale, as bass and vocals then go tandem before the main chorus breaks in.
The title track then arrives, with another dreamlike teaser before the main overdriven bass snarls in. Its chorus is particularly inescapable; I can imagine festival crowds—not so far off now, one hopes—forming circle pits, joining in on the lengthy call of “Typhooooons”, while lead singer Mike Kerr piles in once the strutting bass riff drops.
As the band discussed with NME, Kerr’s battle with alcohol and a successful two-year stint of sobriety forms the core lyrical meaning of the record; on ‘Typhoons’ he sings “All these chemicals dancing through my veins / They don’t kill the cause – they just numb the pain”. Later, during ‘Limbo’, Kerr tells all about how he “wak[s]e up every morning, almost surprised I survived”. It’s a valiant and honest portrayal of a past life that has since been left behind.
Some may question how much you can squeeze out of a pairing of bass and drums, but this record is impressive in its ingenuity—even in its middle section where so often albums can become rather stodgy. There’s always a distinctive riff, a new additional effect or piece of percussion that is added on. ‘Who Needs Friends’ adds in some woodblocks, as well as its eponymous lyrics featuring in a type of withdrawn riff at the end of the chorus; the beginning of ‘Limbo’ sounds like a synth-pop song, and this great bit of production combines with the clever call-and-response in the chorus, as two voices sing “stuck in limbo” but at slightly different speeds and in different rhythmic parts. ‘Million and One’ initiates a synth arpeggio that persists throughout the track as a whole, giving it almost an itchy, uncomfortable feeling which complements the sense that “time is out of our control”, and stops the rather slow tempo of the bass and vocals becoming too laboured.
The best track, though, is ‘Boilermaker’. It contains all the classic elements of a great Royal Blood song: snarling bass, thumping drums, excellently placed falsetto at the end of a spicy chorus, and the most entertaining instrumental B-section, full of trilling Hammond organs, double-duty bass riffs and whispered lyrics you can’t just make out—and then you’re recapitulated back to the main chorus after a yowl of “YAH YAH”—it’s scintillating stuff. That’s even before the final moments of the track mix up the previous building blocks of the song, alternating falsetto, chorus and verse as if the song was being served up in a child’s pick‘n’mix. You can tell that QOTSA frontman and general rock genius Josh Homme had something to do with it too.
It’s not all heavy, though—far from it. Album closer ‘All We Have Is Now’ shows us a different side to Kerr and Thatcher—the production is delicious, the stately piano chords providing the right amount of gravitas to some of the softest tones Kerr sings on the record as a whole; it’s sincerely beautiful, and provides the record with a point at which it can just… drift off into the sunset.
Royal Blood’s third album, Typhoons, is released today (30 April) via Warner Records.
Words by Matthew Prudham
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