|Photo by: Amazon|
Key Tracks: "Really In Love," "Psychotic Episode," "Down the Lane"
Garage rock as it was in the '60s can never be replicated adequately. The mass reach of even tiny local bands with Internet publicity, the firm integration of rock within society's tolerance boundaries and the death of 8-track recording have ensured that. Besides, who would want only a garage for a domain when The Black Keys are out there selling out stadiums with the same set of chords?
But there still isn't anything keeping a bunch of lads who enjoy this ramble-tamble music from forming a band together, a fact that Royal Headache embody to a tee. The band's debut shows no hesitation as to how members present themselves--a bunch of rowdy Australians who know their old-time influences and aren't afraid to wear them on their sleeves.
The band has a vaguely angry sound, but certainly isn't punk in the real sense of the term. The guitars don't feel that threatening, providing something between a crunch and a jangle, the bass is actually audible, and the singer doesn't invite associations with Johnny Rotten--he sounds like a friendly chap who would invite you out for a drink after the show.
You could be uncharitable and call it "toothless," but just look on it as a gateway back to the days when rock was rebellion masquerading as product for the masses.
The first half of the 25-minute album gives every indication that they plan to repeat the old punk model, however. Fast eighth note strums, an almost religious adherence to the verse-chorus-verse form and energy-blast choruses are all present. That works really well for a couple of tracks, notably the darkness-tinged "Really In Love" and the rabid "Psychotic Episode," but begins to sag by the middle, given the guitarist's reliance on the same melodic moves.
That is, until "Down the Lane" where they prove that they aren't set on running variations of the same riff into the ground. The guitar takes a backseat playing a distinctly pre-Beatles era soul chord progression while the singer barks it out like he was Ben E. King, replete with "yeah-yeah-yeah" vocalizations.
From then on out, the second "side" of the album goes on several detours from the main path, dabbling in soul, surf and the assorted flavors of '60s pop.
"Honey Joy" begins and ends with an organ chord, hearkening back to the days when keyboards were an essential ingredient in respectable rock music. "Wilson Street," true to its name, sounds like a Beach Boys outtake from their pre-serious days. It's all done fairly well, but don't think that these homages are going to take the place of the real thing anytime soon.
So it's clear that these guys aren't actually that interested in being devout three-chord garage-punk traditionalists. Why, oh why, then, do they insist on providing a muddy, swampy guitar-strum-and-cymbal soup for the production? The guitars bleed into the rhythm section, the drums sound more like background noise and the singer has to try to out-shout everything. A "royal headache" indeed. Was it that hard to get someone to stand behind the sound board and twiddle the knobs?
Back when garage bands first dabbled in lo-fi during in the sunny '60s, popular music was such that overproduced, clean-cut crooners were the radio poster children. The underground could be forgiven for wanting to sound as dirty as possible--it was a brave artistic statement against the Establishment.
Nowadays, with the method being rebranded by several thousand other careless punks, its use smells more of a conservative nod to tradition than a bold artistic move. Aggression-worshipping hardcore bands might make this work for them, but a "poppy" bunch of lads who absolutely need the melodies to be front and center can't.
An ill-advised production choice and a slight over-reliance on punch over substance, however, cannot conceal the decidedly non-hack nature of Royal Headache. The member clearly put the songs above promoting an image for themselves and already show that the desire to branch out is a vital part of their DNA structure. Give them a few albums and AC/DC might have a reason to look over their shoulders as Australia's premier rock 'n' roll torch carriers.
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