Buzzworthy Brightonians channelling Zep and Pixies using the tried-and-tested two-piece format.
The lineup: Mike Kerr (vocals, bass), Ben Thatcher (drums).
The background: Although Drenge, Southern, Ruen Brothers and now Royal Blood have their own specialisms and idiosyncrasies, it would be hard to argue that they weren’t born out of an idea first formulated by the White Stripes. Before them, the two-piece was a unit of musical expression generally utilised by electronic pop acts: Yazoo, Soft Cell, Blancmange, OMD, Pet Shop Boys, and so on. It’s the same today, from Sleigh Bells to Wilde Belle. But the rock duo is new. Feel absolutely free to disabuse us of this, but we can’t remember a single example before Jack and Meg.
So anyway, Royal Blood are the latest exponents of this form, but if you were expecting that to mean they would seem like the umpteenth iteration, even though they are (see also: Black Keys, Deap Vally, the Pack AD), you’d be wrong. Two lads from Brighton, much loved of Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders (he was seen wearing a Royal Blood T-shirt onstage at Glastonbury), they make one hell of a racket considering their arsenal comprises a bass, a voice and a guitar. But it isn’t just noise, there is nuance here, which makes it all the more powerful, as well as intricacy and invention. It’s like being hit by the hammer of the gods, only wielded with skill.
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You can hear echoes and tremors of Led Zeppelin in the mighty wallop of early 2013 track Figure It Out. Mike Kerr wrings every ounce of feeling out of his voice as it moves from a controlled mid-range tenor to an excitable near-shriek. And is that really just a bass making all that sound, or rather, all those sounds? Meanwhile, Ben Thatcher does more than keep time. You might say he extends time, or stops time. It’s riveting stuff. Debut single Out of the Black, just released, registers even higher on rock’s richter scale. Blues is clearly the root of it all, but it’s all in the electrification. That, and the use of the voice as an instrument of retribution (“Don’t breathe when I’m talking because you haven’t been spoken to!”) and the bass as guitar (and bass). Importantly, it sounds authentic, although authentic to what? To four long-haired Midlanders called Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones? Kerr sings in American, that’s for sure. “You made a fool out of me, took the skin off my back, honey.” He’s got the blues, singing – wailing, really – about “the vows we made”. It is testament to the great music that can emerge from a routinely damaged relationship between two people, any people. B-side Come On Over channels Zep via the Pixies. Even after all these years, the right riff can – to use a technical term – cave your head in. There would appear to be no limitations as yet with regard to what these two musicians can achieve as long as they stick within the parameters of what they seem to want to do, which is, largely speaking, to make simply thrilling rock’n’roll and blow away festival crowds next summer.