What ever happened to Band Of Skulls? It felt like there was a point where they were on top of the world, ready to capitalise on the blues influences creeping into indie-rock with critical acclaim and co-signs from Queens Of The Stone Age pushing them to the finish line, only to get lapped by Royal Blood and remain unable to catch up ever since. And it’s not really fair that that happened, as Band Of Skulls arguably have more to offer, or at least they had. Baby Darling Doll Face Honey and Sweet Sour were a couple of really strong opening salvos, something that could’ve been said about Himalayan also if it hadn’t have been all but ignored by virtually everyone. Skip to 2016’s By Default, an album that the vast majority of people probably don’t know even exists, and it looked as though Band Of Skulls’ status as the it-band was dead in the water, and they remained as another entity plugging away in the vain hopes of getting some increased recognition halfway down festival bills. At least Love Is All You Love is a sign that they’re still willing to go for it, even if it does prove to be all for nought, and through sheer appreciation of their perseverance, it feels like an album worth checking out.
That largely depends on what you’re expecting though, and if that’s just another Band Of Skulls album to fall in line with the rest, Love Is All You Love isn’t that. More than anything, this feels like the product of a creative surge and a wave of desperation that’s seen the duo retool their sound for something a lot more diverse and, subsequently, hit-or-miss. That really could’ve been predicted though; a lot of the time, this is not Band Of Skulls’ comfort zone, and a much shakier album than usual makes sure to highlight that as boldly as it can, but that’s not to say there isn’t merit here. Credit needs to be given for such a bold, ballsy move being made from their relative standstill, and while congratulating it for not being a total disaster feels like the faintest praise imaginable, some of the avenues laid out from this album are worth exploring further.
That’s almost purely from a musical standpoint, mind; lyrically, the pivot towards the big, crowd-pleasing sentiments of love and togetherness do pick up motion, but they largely feel like a concession made to justify how far some of the other shifts here have gone. There’s definitely still a number of hints of the scuzzy blues-rock they made their name with that’s only gotten more tired over time like on That’s My Trouble (only adding insult to injury with the fact that Band Of Skulls are also a duo now), but with the glammed-up stomp of Carnivorous or the slightly deranged tweaks that comprise Not The Kind Of Nothing I Know, there’s clearly been a shake up in at least some of the right places. It helps that, with both Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson contributing vocals, there’s a more pliable dynamic that works to their advantage in terms of sounding a bit more distinct. Of course, distinction isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and when the aforementioned desperation comes into play, it’s easy to see how hard Band Of Skulls are trying to mask just how spent they are. As far as more melodic, radio-ready indie-rock goes, Cool Your Battles is easily the best example with a more bracing, widescreen sound, something that Thanks A Lot and Speed Of Light veer towards but never hit. It’s a splatterpaint style to album production that certainly yields results (mainly for how polished and well-realised the production is more or less across the board), but also ends up with Band Of Skulls dragging their heels and coming up with sagging, low-energy fluff that they should really be avoiding at this point.
If nothing else though, Love Is All You Love represents the era that has had people talking about Band Of Skulls the most for a long time. It’s not necessarily for how great it is beyond how blatant the difference in sound is, but as far as worming their way into the public consciousness goes, it’s hard to deny that this album has done its job. Even more so, the foundation has been laid for something more diverse to come in the future, even if it’s going to have to be a lot tighter and more focused than this album to achieve the success that Band Of Skulls should be enjoying at this point. Right now though, it’s easier to give them the benefit of the doubt than with most, but they’ll need to prove that that good will has been earned next time around.
For fans of: Blood Red Shoes, The Kills, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Love Is All You Love’ by Band Of Skulls is out now on SO Recordings / Silva Screen Records.