“I used to live in a world/Of rock and roll and tons of girls,” is the opening line of Royal Headache‘s new album, and its mix of hedonism and regret sets the tone for what follows. This is a band whose thrilling self-titled 2012 debut album and guerrilla live shows have built a passionate cult following; a band whose blend of ramshackle punk rock, self-deprecating lyrics and soulfully intense vocals have led to comparisons with the likes of The Replacements and The Buzzcocks. They’ve had a great big taste of rock and roll glory and they’ve found it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
All the elements that have made that debut album my most-played album of the last couple of years are present and correct: the band’s seemingly effortless knack for writing catchy punk rock tunes; lovably and often painfully honest lyrics; and most importantly lead singer Shogun, a man blessed with such talent and star quality who, even if the band should implode, which seems constantly likely, will surely go on to greater heights. But where that first album was all about youthful abandon, High is more wistful, more romantic, more nostalgic.
You can hear it in the Strokes-like opening track ‘Fantasy’, a rumination on the price of success – “My hair was wild, my social life was poor/I thought I didn’t need you any more,” – which flows nicely into the brilliant, yearning ‘Need You’. You can hear it in the tearjerking ‘Little Star’ (“Oh little star…when things got rough, that’s when I knew that I loved you“). You can hear it in the anthemic ‘Carolina’, the best song Paul Westerberg never wrote. in my opinion. And most of all you can hear it in the incredible ‘Wouldn’t You Know’, a stripped-down soul number that genuinely wouldn’t sound out of place on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.
There are a couple of missteps, and it’s clear that when Royal Headache songs don’t spark they can end up sounding like some laddish, long-forgotten landfill indie act – the plodding title track, for example, or the pointlessly nasty ‘Garbage’. Like Ash or the aforementioned Replacements, bitterness just doesn’t suit them.
They may be disillusioned with the rock and roll lifestyle, but I’m afraid, Royal Headache, that if you keep releasing wonderful albums like this, there’s a lot more of it coming your way.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.