Royal Blood find themselves in the desert on their new, disco-inspired album, Typhoons.
Bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher’s self-titled album debuted as rock and roll sputtered out its dying gasps. Or so Gene Simmons and a handful of other fire and brimstone reactionaries in denial declared in 2014. Whatever. Regardless of whether or not rock and roll had actually keeled over and died, bands like the Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys offered themselves as a return to form for guitar-led rock. Royal Blood promised more of the same riff-driven, garage rock bangers audiences were apparently ravenous for — their first two albums debuted at number on the UK Albums Chart. Perhaps the true saviours of rock had arrived?
Beyond initial impressions, however, what worked for Royal Blood was not enough to solidify their place in the rock canon. The duo were able to crank out some crunchy riffs and a handful of blood-pumping songs, but between their first two albums, there’s hardly an album of tracks worth revisiting. There’s only so much a band can do when limited to a bass guitar and drum kit before reaching riff fatigue.
Enter Josh Homme.
Royal Blood joined Queens of the Stone Age on their Villains tour in 2017, and in that time Kerr found a friend and mentor in Homme. Since the tour, Kerr was invited out to Rancho De La Luna for Desert Sessions 11 & 12, a project from Homme’s experimental supergroup, where he got to rub elbows with the likes of Billy Gibbons, Les Claypool and Dave Catching. One doesn’t come back from an experience like that unchanged.
Kerr and Thatcher only worked with Homme on the single “Boilermaker,” but as the first song recorded for Typhoons, it was a pivotal moment for the album and the Royal Blood’s career. Homme just has a certain magic touch, everything he touches turns to solid gold. And his influence on Royal Blood is clear, the track opening with a swinging riff almost identical in sound to QOTSA’s “The Way You Used to Do.” This is where Kerr was first able to write about his struggle with a self-destructive alcohol habit and journey to sobriety. Much of Typhoons finds a harmonic balance between upbeat, danceable rock and the darkness Kerr found himself surrounded by. So even as Kerr exorcises his demons, Royal Blood is having a good time while doing it.
While Thatcher doesn’t take center stage the same way Kerr does on the album, he’s the lifeblood of Typhoons. He effortlessly makes the transition from the savagery in garage rock drumming to the tight precision needed for the album’s dance beats.
Opener “Trouble’s Coming” brings disco influences to the record, ranging from the Beegees and Janet Jackson to Daft Punk and Justice, according to Kerr. This song is big and hand-crafted for grooving — already Royal Blood has course-corrected from past albums. Kerr’s falsetto vocals are alluring, and synth fills and quick attacks from disco strings attack are a simple addition but bring another layer to the band’s sound.
Even their more straightforward riff-rock has taken a wild step forward. Royal Blood find themselves at the edge of Kerr’s personal apocalypse on the fast and punchy “Oblivion,” with an electronic bass tone pulled straight from Late of the Pier’s Fantasy Black Channel. It’s easy to draw comparisons between Royal Blood and fellow bass/drum duo Death From Above (1979, depending on their mood), but “Limbo” goes full dance-punk with energy matching cuts from You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Quiet, serene synth lays the groundwork for Kerr to smash with his monstrous and feral bass riff. The raw energy here fills a void DFA haven’t since their first record.
Title track “Typhoons” and “Mad Visions” are among Royal Blood’s only stumbles on the album. While both stand-alone just as strong as anything else, they commit the cardinal sin of riff-rock by repeating almost the exact same riff — just enough to throw off the groove. On an album less than 40 minutes long, this should have been avoidable.
Kerr couldn’t change his life on his own, on “Million and One” he finds hope in another. “But you didn’t throw me away / You made me believe I could change / Don’t say I did all on my own,” he sings. Royal Blood abruptly loses the bass guitar and drums on closing ballad “All We Have Now.” Kerr finds a shred of optimism through his apocalyptic nihilism, promising the best to his “one in a million one,” even when faced with certain doom. “If nothing lasts forever and no one makes it out alive / I want to spend our lives together, while we have the time,” Kerr sings. “Oh we don’t need to know, all we have is now so just let it go […] Have no fear because you got me and I got you right here.” It’s the type of pure vulnerability found in the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” The demons aren’t gone, Kerr has merely learned how to control them. Now he’s just looking for a home to share the same space for a minute or two.
Royal Blood are still yet to change the game or become the heralded saviours of rock and roll with Typhoons. But when you’re having this good of a time, does it really matter?
Typhoons hits the shelves this Friday, April 30th and is available to pre-order and pre-save now.