Palaye Royale seem to be an ultimate example of how hype and popularity are not conducive to quality. This is a band who’ve been placed on the industry pedestal for a good few years now, with the sort of slavishly dedicated fanbase behind that ‘fashion bands’ like this tend to cultivate, but they’ve never shown why that is all that well. If anything, it’s probably down to how marketable they actually are with the high emphasis on relatability stacked even higher (as is so often the case with bands of their ilk), because the music certainly hasn’t done anything for them. Neither of the previous albums have seen them take their ideas and construct something effective or succinct with them; there are parts of glam-rock, garage-rock and pop-rock in there, but the band have never found a way to arrange them into anything worthwhile. What’s primarily come out as a result is a band that’s got the style-over-substance rubric to a science, to where it’s honestly surprising that the opportunity to release a third album has presented itself. Then again, when the combined forces of mild provocation, image and blank platitudes have been the unfortunate formula for success for some in modern rock (*cough* Yungblud *cough*), cashing in is probably the most useful thing that Palaye Royale can do at the minute. At least The Bastards hasn’t been preemptively damned by overexposure like it could’ve been, but a stream of singles where any improvements have been marginal at best hasn’t exactly raised spirits, nor has what has seemed to be a tapering lack of interest in Palaye Royale as a whole, an ominous suggestion of yet another hype cycle coming to end like clockwork.
And that does feel appropriate, as The Bastards is yet another album where Palaye Royale are just not impressive. They might be looking to branch out more and move away from the outwardly poppier climes of Boom Boom Room (Side B), but it honestly feels done to keep up with the crowd rather than make any serious artistic statement. It produces an album that’s about as perfunctory as most of Palaye Royale’s work to date, complete with previous flaws that have gone almost totally unaddressed, and a severe dearth of compelling material that this band simply can’t afford to have. The fact that’s basically Palaye Royale’s bread and butter makes that even more unforgivable, but when The Bastards seems to go out of its way to come across as either unlikable or almost wholly inept, it’s doesn’t take an expert to point out a faulty creative process there.
That’s most noticeable in how Palaye Royale’s sound clearly isn’t the finished article here, and while that’s been the case across all of their albums, The Bastards is a palpable regression in just how unpleasant to listen to it can be. There’s not a whole lot to say about the music itself; it’s still ragged and scrappy in a way that’s blatantly stylistic instead of instinctual, and while there’s definitely value to that on tracks like Massacre, The New American Dream and Black Sheep that want to feel edgier or more electrified, pretty much the entire album being chronically kneecapped by its own production sucks away so much impact that could potentially be had. It’s not like Palaye Royale’s ear for a good production job has ever been all that attuned, but The Bastards seems to go above and beyond in making itself sound as blown-out and torturously loud as it can. Of course the guitars are compressed to a horrendous degree to make them sound coarse and scratchy, but the bass and drums have the same issue, the former as a quaking slab of noise that makes a track like Anxiety lumber along and quiver under its own weight, while the latter could easily be a processed beat with no difference in the outcome. And when it’s all layered in a way that brings everything right to the front of the mix, what occurs is the sort of overwhelming sonic assault, actively and unashamedly clipping the mix on Nightmares, and being next to impossible to parse out any sort of melody or progression from at times. Granted, that feels like a fool’s errand when tracks that are looking to be different employ the same techniques, like with the opulent strings and very austere demeanour of Tonight Is The Night I Die or the brittle, Yungblud-esque guitars of Lonely that become smothered by unnecessary background rumbles, to where moments of quality almost feel like flukes. Hang On To Yourself is easily the best song that Palaye Royale have ever made with its slickly but hugely propulsive groove that could only be better if the horns used the set the scene had more of a role overall, and even if the more prominent bassline on Masochist or the attempt at Black Sabbath-style gloom on Doom (Empty) succumb to some of the same production issues as everything else, there’s a least a formative idea within them that’s possible to isolate as something that does ultimately work.
But even then, Palaye Royale’s desire to cut themselves off at seemingly every juncture presents a baffling limitation when it comes to how positively any of the this can viewed, largely coming in the form of frontman Remington Leith. To be clear, he’s never been a good vocalist, unable to muster much control of his own performance which has frequently led to his braying tones being even less stable than they already would’ve been, but like everything else here, The Bastards has him completely swallowed up by its cacophony. As such, the compression makes him borderline incomprehensible and when placed among what’s supposed to be a more elegant instrumental on Tonight Is The Night I Die, the disconnect is enormous. The other option is to have his power through it, which is possibly even worse on tracks like Anxiety or Nervous Breakdown, where his blown-out shrieks frankly sound painful, both to listen to and for Leith himself to deliver. And yet, when moments arise that ease back on the compression and let his unhewn but exponentially preferable natural vocals out, it begs the question of what was supposed to be achieved through all of this. It doesn’t add anything beyond making Palaye Royale sound that bit more unbearable, and any rawness that it might want to cultivate isn’t a synonym for total incompetence disguised as creative ‘transgression’.
Because really, nothing on The Bastards even comes close to transgressive. To continue the Yungblud comparisons, the endgoal with this album is exactly the same – to fool young kids into believing they’re extolling something profound and meaningful for them, when it’s really just a series of broad platitudes that, in Palaye Royale’s defence, might have a bit more flair, but never anything that makes it worth buying into. At their best, there’s palpable angst and frustration around gun violence in the US on Massacre, The New American Dream, but for the most part, The Bastards is basically the same spiel that continues to be repeated ad nauseum about being an outcast and embracing the flaws and shortcomings that might bring. It’s not as maudlin as it could be (though Black Sheep comes incredibly close to toeing that line), but the onus placed on being as edgy and ‘real’ as possible is a dead giveaway of how much marketability has been pumped into this album, and how tightly the essence of Palaye Royale’s audience has been honed in on, to where even the title is enough to encompass the teenage angst they’re so desperately trying to extol. Just look at Lonely, which tries to condense every element of depressive teenage self-loathing into by far the most radio-friendly song on the album, a canny move that only stands out more thanks to the flurries of out-the-box rage around it. Even then though, The Bastards reaches its most egregious level of pandering with Stay, in which a refrain of “I am the only hope for you / You are the only hope for me too” has a distinct whiff of “music saved my life” to it which can be left in 2013 and doesn’t need to come back in a hurry, but also beats in the self-importance on Palaye Royale’s part that they most certainly haven’t earned.
That’s appropriate too, because looking at them more deeply, Palaye Royale feel especially close to an early-2010s Warped Tour band. The lyrical focus speaks for itself, but there’s also far more importance placed on style and how left-of-centre they can sound, rather than anything that would actually matter in the long run. And just like so many of those bands, The Bastards continues Palaye Royale’s earmarking of themselves as a fad, where longevity isn’t a factor and that fifteenth minute could be around any possible corner. And it’s not like they’re incapable of avoiding that; there’s at least a solid band somewhere in there, but between the pounds of artifice and penchant for scene flag-waving, it’s hard to isolate where that is, and thus attention needs to paid on what they’re doing now. That shouldn’t have to be the case, but clearly this is how Palaye Royale want to present themselves, and considering each time they do, their image gets weaker and weaker, that isn’t indicative of a band looking to stick around for the long haul. Whether or not that’ll be the case remains to be seen, but The Bastards sees them come another step closer to the edge of that cliff, to where they’re now effectively staring down the sheer plunge below them.
For fans of: Yungblud, grandson, Yonaka
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Bastards’ by Palaye Royale is released on 29th May on Sumerian Records.