Royal Blood – Typhoons
Is it worse for an album to be completely by the numbers, or for it try and fail at something new? On the one hand you have those bands that have hit upon a formula that works, but elect to push their luck by streamlining and simplifying their sound a little more with every release. Each subsequent album feels more watered down than the last, a photocopy of a photocopy, still recognisable but completely devoid of passion or originality. You might therefore say that it’s better to at least try new things; attempt to expand horizons, even if it doesn’t quite work out. It’s not always that simple though. Sometimes a new approach can completely play against a band’s strengths, essentially eliminating whatever unique identity they had, and alienating plenty of established fans in the process. You listen to some records where the band have tried to shake things up and wonder how it made it all the way to release without someone holding their hands up at some point and saying “we gave it a go, but it didn’t quite work. Back to the drawing board”.
Whichever camp you fall into you will still likely leave disappointed from the new record by Royal Blood, as it somehow manages to be the worst of both worlds. Not only have their riffs lost nearly all their bite, but they’ve been further muzzled by an ineffective sheen of skin deep disco sensibilities.
When the band first hit the scene with their eponymous debut back in 2014 they were the most fresh and exciting new rock act around. A large part of that was down to Mike Kerr’s electrifying bass wizardry. With just four strings and his arsenal of effects pedals he brought the house down, sounding like several guitars blaring different riffs all at once and crafting a larger than life sound that defied all conventional logic. The band have now drifted so far backwards in the riff department however that they’ve completely lost what set them apart in the first place. The riffs on tracks like ‘Who Needs Friends’ and ‘Mad Visions’ are so simple and uninteresting that it seems like the band has just given up entirely, while the riff on ‘Boilermaker’ sounds like the feedback from plugging into an amp has been remixed by a DJ, with the end result just rubbing me up the wrong way like nails on a chalkboard. It’s not just the riffs that have regressed though. Gone are the whip smart choruses of the likes of ‘Out of the Black’ and ‘Little Monster’, addictive hooks full of swagger and striking imagery, and instead we just get the same uninspired lines repeated back to us over and over on tracks like ‘Trouble’s Coming’ and ‘Either You Want It’.
Their lackadaisical dip into dance vibes doesn’t do them any favours either. The glossy sheen of synths, electronics and backing vocals only ever feels like window dressing at best. Just a thin coat of sparkly paint at the surface that does little to elevate the record. At it’s worst, like the ill-advised pastiche of Tame Impala on ‘Either You Want It’, the polished production seems utterly at odds with the raw, snarling, snaking bass riffs that put the band on the map. The shimmery disco approach serves to further temper their former ferocity and complexity but while also offering very little in exchange.
Typhoons does have a few fleeting moments that sparked my interest, but sadly they were few and far between. Ben Thatcher’s drums feel a lot more muted in the mix for the most part, but there are a few energizing fills dotted about that got away unscathed. ‘Million and One’ is the one track that really feels like it has a spark of passion, and indeed feels worthy of sitting amongst their best work. The slick riff works in tandem with the electronics, amplifying each other rather than counteracting, with a superb breakdown juxtaposing both dark and light facets as its centrepiece. Elsewhere the piano balladry of album closer ‘All We Have Is Now’, while being about as far removed from their style as possible, does surprisingly end up feeling like a welcome change of pace. For the most part however this anaemic new album is one to miss. A paint-by-numbers affair lacking any real drive or zeal, it neither commits hard enough to new ideas nor does it keep the fire that was their established sound burning anywhere near as bright.