By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)
Royal Blood were the surprise stars of 2014. Exploding into the limelight with an electric live show that was the highlight of several festivals and a debut album that sold more copies in its first week than any other debut rock album since Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds three years prior. Their sound was both familiar yet forgotten, and for many was a reminder that rock music could still be relevant. However, with only two members and a very specific set-up of a bassist/vocalist and a drummer, many were also sceptical of where the Brighton duo could go next.
Fast-forward three long years and the boys have finally returned with a follow-up to their Mercury Prize nominated debut album. Since 2014, it was obvious the band could could go two ways: re-invent themselves and continue to find ways to innovate rock music and impress fans and critics alike or to assume the loyalty of their newly amassed fan base and essentially make the same thing over again. Unfortunately, they went with the latter option and even more disappointingly, it feels as if they did so intentionally.
The album opens with the eponymous title track which ventures into familiar territory, as if it could have been a b-side to a single they released three years ago. The track however does end on a more interesting note with some haunting backing vocals that lead into a final barrage that actually serves as a decent pay-off. This pattern continues for most of the album, bar the next two tracks which are plain dull, mostly predictable Royal Blood songs with the occasional interesting production choice or variation in vocal delivery. An example of this is the falsetto Mike Kerr adopts in She’s Creeping which is evidently influenced by AM-era Arctic Monkeys.
These occasional changes in pace are welcome but perhaps only more evident because of how painfully safe the rest of the album is. Their sound which was so exciting and volatile in 2014 feels so tried and tested and it feels as if the band have made little attempt to alter themselves. As with the sophomore album of Catfish and the Bottlemen last year, it seems as if Royal Blood are content with the level of success they have attained and are happy to cash in on it rather than evolve as a band and remain relevant in the long-run. This is incredibly disappointing to see from one of the most exciting bands of a few years ago.
Another source of disappointment in How Did We Get So Dark? is the lyrical content. Very similar to their debut, there is little here that is memorable or new and sticks to familiar themes explored on their self-titled album and by the end of the album the repetitiveness really starts to become irritating. Unsurprisingly, singing about the same thing over and over again exhausts the options for lyrics and this leads to some almost laughably bad lyricisms such as “She’s got the devil on one shoulder and my other is getting colder” on Hook, Line and Sinker. This track is also hampered by Kerr’s attempt at a more talkative delivery which is just a bit embarrassing.
Not all is lost with Royal Blood, they could maybe be capable of creating another credible album, but they need to dig deeper and look at ways of developing their sound instead of exhausting the products of the sound that propelled them to fame. Easily the biggest letdown here is the band’s clear decision to rest on their laurels and not make much of an effort to do anything new. Of course, since the first album was good, there is still some enjoyment to gain from an album that is essentially the same, but by the thousandth identical tinny riff from Kerr’s bass, it becomes tiring.
So let’s hope that next time we hear from Royal Blood they are able to redeem themselves but for now they have delivered one of the most underwhelming follow-up albums in recent memory.