HOW DID WE GET SO DARK? by Royal Blood
Genre: Hard Rock, Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “How Did We Get So Dark,” “Lights Out,” “Where Are You Now?,” “Hole In Your Heart”
Rock is dead. Whenever I hear this tired cliche, I only grow disappointed in how reactionary rock fans are, yearning for the days when Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, and Aerosmith were some of the biggest names in music. The dominant form of rock nowadays appears to be indie rock like Young the Giant and Imagine Dragons, which often isn’t really indie, and definitely doesn’t rock like the aforementioned acts do. Sure, bands like Green Day, Metallica, and Red Hot Chili Peppers are selling records and filling up stadiums, but they don’t seem to matter like they did in their heydays. Having felt left behind by the rest of the music scene, rock fans incessantly repeat how everything on the radio sucks and good music stopped being made in about 1995, arguments based in feelings rather than empiricism.
In this continuous pity party of rock radio, Royal Blood became one of the most surprising and noteworthy new stars. With a bass guitar, drums, and a handful of massive singles, their self-titled debut was one of the most hyped rock releases of 2014, and like the Foo Fighters before them, they became the ultimate “indie” band for disgruntled rock fans who liked Queens of the Stone Age and White Stripes but thought their deep cuts were too esoteric. However, once the novelty of their setup and position in modern rock faded, I was worried they wouldn’t have the tunes to keep things fresh, especially given my recent exposure to a lot of their influences from the 2000s, like The Vines and Death From Above 1979. Despite more diverse vocals, HOW DID WE GET SO DARK? is a stale retread of their debut, without the fire that covered up the band’s numerous limitations.
Admittedly, it’s hard to make raw rock music with just two instruments sound fresh and exciting, and I think one way Royal Blood succeeded is with the inclusion of more background vocals and harmonies. The title track features a creepily harmonious refrain and eschews a third chorus for an extended bridge that works perfectly for an intro. Similarly, lead single “Lights Out” makes up for a pathetic drum fill with a roaring yell that begins one of the best choruses on the album. The bass work still has a fullness and weight that prevents tracks from feeling like skeletal demos. At their best, the riffs are monstrous and tight, but the drums feel so much more tepid and delicately played. There’s not many cymbal crashes to synch with the riffs, and the most memorable drum beat on the record (“Where Are You Now”) fizzles out in the chorus.
Every song on ROYAL BLOOD felt like it could have been released as a single, and they felt combed over and well thought out without sacrificing their rawness. Such a thing was not replicated here, as “I Only Lie When I Love You” feels like a rough draft of a song with little sense of structure and terrible mixing on the chorus, and “Look Like You Now” abruptly ends, featuring some of the most uninteresting and choppy verses. There’s a similar balance problem when it comes to the themes, as Royal Blood makes songs about ugly breakups and violent relationships. When these are put in a catchy package they are generally palpable, but without that, it just comes across as a drunk dude at a bar ranting to you about the last girl he was with, with you siding with her after hearing his take.
The most excruciating part of HOW DID WE GET SO DARK? are the slower songs. I know that this band can slow down the tempos while still maintaining a confrontational and headstrong attitude, as “Better Strangers” and “Careless” proved. Even the more ballad-esque Royal Blood tracks once had lyrical or musical kick to them, but here they are so flat and dull. “She’s Creeping” benefits from a sleazy riff and falsetto that does convey someone creeping, though it still suffers from a high-pitched, overly fuzzy guitar chord that ruins the verses, but “Don’t Tell” and “Sleep” are devoid of anything interesting. There’s no backhanded, caustic wit, there’s no tight melody, and both suffer from too much compression as the vocals and the drums just get lost underneath the bass.
It was going to be hard to replicate ROYAL BLOOD, but I didn’t think Royal Blood was going to lose their songwriting abilities this fast. Even if they weren’t very unique to me any more, they could still make straight-forward rock music with a lot of energy and attitude, but sadly, HOW DID WE GET SO DARK? doesn’t have enough compelling material to keep me engaged over its short run time. Should have been called HOW DID WE GET SO UNREMARKABLE.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend