The White Stripes. The Black Keys. Royal Blood. The harder fringes of rock have spawned a succession of bands playing stripped-down music. For The White Stripes and The Black Keys, this has meant a line-up of drums, guitar and vocals — raw, minimal and visceral. Royal Blood offer a variation on the theme: they don’t have a guitarist, as such. Alongside Ben Thatcher on drums is Mike Kerr, who sings and plays bass. Not just an ordinary bass: it’s heavily treated and played so that it resembles a regular six-string rock guitar (and sometimes a keyboard), though without the ability to venture into the higher end of the spectrum.
It’s a surprisingly effective combination: rock music is traditionally underpinned by the solid foundation provided by the rhythm section of bass and drums, the bass player synching with, or playing around, the beat of the bass drum. But, just as The White Stripes showed that rock doesn’t necessarily need a bass player, Royal Blood compensate for the absence of a “real” bass by creating a solid edifice that combines walloping drums, fuzzed-up “lead” bass and the vocals of Kerr — plus, on record, keyboards, synths and suchlike. The results are full, dynamic and kinetic.
It has served them well for two albums. Now, on the Sussex duo’s third studio collection, they venture into fresh territory: there’s a disco-dance-EDM flavour to Typhoons, with Thatcher’s drums often locking into a dance floor groove. This is not achieved at the expense of heaviosity: just as Muse have succeeded in getting us to bang our heads and move our feet at the same time, Royal Blood have made an album of songs that are both infectiously danceable and crunchingly powerful.
It begins with the metronomic stomp of “Trouble’s Coming”, its pounding beat and snippety hi-hats decorated with flourishes of 1980s-style synth, while Kerr delivers a little bass motif that’s reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. “Oblivion” ratchets up the intensity, driven by a blasting riff that exploits the growling lower notes not available to conventional guitar. The title track is a bludgeoning thing with a fearful-sounding ascending chromatic scale. “Who Needs Friends” is old-school Royal Blood, a full-on rock-out, albeit embellished with plinky synths. “Million and One” has a synth pattern that resembles, of all things, Yazoo’s “Only You”.
Lyrically, we are in a familiar realm of high anxiety, heightened emotion, wild mood swings that tip occasionally into a kind of frenzied desperation, and a hint of drug use on “Typhoons”: “Cos all these chemicals dancing through my veins, they don’t kill the cause, they just numb the pain,” (though Kerr says he is now “clean and sober”).
The energy is unrelenting, reaching its zenith on “Limbo”, a controlled explosion of sound; music to the power of two.
‘Typhoons’ is released by Warner Records