There’s always been an inevitability surrounding Royal Blood and how their rise wasn’t to last. Carrying themselves like the biggest and best band in the world at their height was all well and good, but it’s also worth remembering that their hugely acclaimed debut came at a lucrative time for power-duos, where Royal Blood’s bass-and-drums setup was enough to eke out a place just forward of the pack. The singles from that album still remain generally agreeable, as a meatier, groove-driven version of in-vogue 2010s garage-rock, but the overall downturn has been on the cards for a while now. When How Did We Get So Dark? failed to light anything close to the same fire under anyone by just going through the same formula, that felt like a clear, set-in-stone moment when public opinion on Royal Blood went from adulation to nonplussed acknowledgement. They were part of the Britrock furniture, likely being able to lock in big tours and festival appearances on residual momentum, but never being able to capitalise on it in as meaningful a way. And thus, Typhoons rings as the most obvious pivot imaginable, where the tighter, more glaringly contemporary grooves have wormed their way in for Royal Blood to take a stab at being ‘trendy’. It’s worth noting that Trouble’s Coming wasn’t a bad lead single to showcase this, but it gave the impression that this would be another rigid formula that the duo would stick to. They aren’t an act that pride themselves on being diverse, clearly, and drilling as deeply into another sound that can be just as simplistic (not to mention one that feels specifically designed to curry favour in a modern musical climate) doesn’t bode well for any longevity they want to cultivate.
Prior to anything though, it’s worth mentioning that it is possible to appreciate Royal Blood’s path without actually liking the music. When they were getting stale after just two albums, some form of galvanising force was always going to be welcome, however they brought it in. But after listening to Typhoons, it feels as though all they’ve done is throw some gloss and glitter on top of everything that was already there and called it a day. That in itself brings up a crop of new issues that the duo have stumbled into, but it doesn’t make for the most enlightening discussion when a mild augmentation of what they’ve already got is the extent that Royal Blood are willing to go. It still feels really limited regardless of what they’ve done, which might just be baked into the band at this stage, but becomes so much more glaring when they’re skirting around it instead of actively rectifying it.
But even with all of that in mind, it’s a good thing that the unequivocal positive about Royal Blood’s music still remains, that being the ear for a groove that makes up a sizable chunk of their appeal all by itself. It’s to be expected when they’re a band solely comprised of a rhythm section, but regardless of everything else, that carving momentum that drives the majority of these songs can’t really be faulted. What can be faulted, though, is how they stand up to some of the new layers of polish around them which, to put it nicely, can be an exercise in trying to make what already feels conceptually hit-or-miss work. At best, there’ll be an extra instrumental dimension brought in by the added synths and electronics to prop things up and feel a little less barebones, and the generally grittier texture to them reminiscent of synthwave at times feels like a stable choice. They’ll give a bit more shimmer to the edges of Mike Kerr’s shapeshifting bass on Oblivion, or on Limbo where they feel fully cribbed from Deadmau5’s Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff (which is a compliment, for the record), it makes for probably the most driving and kinetic song on the album. Conversely there’s a notable thinness when they aren’t as present on the title track and Mad Visions – alongside some falsettos and backing vocals that barely feel there – but that can largely be attributed to how gutted Royal Blood’s core dynamic can feel by this production style. This is nowhere near as thick or muscular as it once was, and therefore leaches out the weight that made their output connect at the very least; in its place, Kerr’s bass still has a sense of fuzz buried underneath a tone that’ll uncomfortably grind more than snarl, and Ben Thatcher’s percussion increases its tightness at the expense of some the pummeling vigour that was once there. You can tell that Boilermaker has been floating round for a couple of years already given that it’s the clearest replicant of Royal Blood’s old sound, but even that isn’t a positive when that in itself feels so much like a rehash. Sonically, Typhoons mostly illustrates how tightly Royal Blood have painted themselves into a corner, and how entrenching themselves in their one base sound – and thus, paring back any true dynamism – is really not doing anything positive for them.
It’s a shame for what’s meant to be a more personal album for them, where that’s ultimately subsumed by the fact that it’s publicised advancements don’t really do anything noteworthy for it. Then again, it’s not like the lyrical content itself is much to write home amount, coming off the back of Kerr’s sobriety and attempts to reclaim control within his old life, told in broad generalisations that’ll occasionally happen upon some solid word choices to pull it back somewhat. From a technical writing standpoint, it’s actually rather good in being a bit more varied and colourful with some of its images like on Boilermaker, but the thematics beneath them can’t be held in nearly as high regard. The opening triplet of Trouble’s Coming, Oblivion and the title track basically go around the same point of Kerr’s own inner turmoil and turbulence with little to differentiate them, and Hold On might be one of the most nondescript songs that Royal Blood have ever penned, in a ‘don’t give up, stay strong’ mould that doesn’t offer a great deal beyond those sketched sentiments. The one notable outlier is Million And One, as Kerr’s tribute to someone who stood by him even at his lowest lows when they had every opportunity to dip and save themselves, something that would be worth expanding on to feel like more than just a cursory detour.
It probably wouldn’t do much admittedly, but the chance for a bit more character would be there, instead of what doesn’t feel like much of anything on any front. It’s a premium showcase of the prevailing weaknesses that continue to afflict Royal Blood, where they’re fine at keeping their own foundations intact and done pretty well, to be fair, but building anything on them is a much different matter entirely. That was even the case on How Did We Get So Dark?, but actively gunning for expanse and contemporary, commercial appeal on Typhoons is way too far outside of their chronically narrow wheelhouse to work. It’s more misguided than outright wretched, where the band’s pushing of their limitations is commendable on paper, and it’s not as redundant as its predecessor by any rate. But for what Royal Blood are trying to do, they just aren’t equipped to properly get there, and it leads to Typhoons being an emptier and more disposable album than they were otherwise anticipating. At least it’s got a snazzy new moving cover on Apple Music – that’s something, right?
For fans of: Queens Of The Stone Age, Band Of Skulls, Wolfmother
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Typhoons’ by Royal Blood is out now on Warner Music.