Love or hate Royal Blood, the focus on the Brighton duo has always centred around their elemental nature. Bass, drums, angst and some filthy stoner blues were all they needed to become one of Britain’s biggest bands. Still, one may have wondered just how far these guys could run with it.
For album number three, Royal Blood haven’t reinvented the wheel – but they’ve certainly pimped their ride with a tweaked engine, some sick racing stripes and a sexy leopard-print interior. By being far more explicit about their dancefloor influences (think Daft Punk, Justice, Goldfrapp and Cassius), ‘Typhoons’ has much more of a glitterball shimmer than the previous jet-black palette of their self-titled 2014 debut and its aptly titled 2017 follow-up ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’.
You can forgive them adding a dash of colour when you consider what they were up against. At the end of their last tour, frontman Mike Kerr found himself burned out from a life of rock’n’roll excess, with all the shame and regret that comes with it. He started on the long and difficult road to living without drink or drugs – not only regaining control of his life, but rekindling his sense of purpose. As he told NME in Royal Blood’s recent Big Read cover story, “without sobriety, this album or this band wouldn’t exist”.
Gearing towards a sound more “euphoric, danceable and fun” allowed Kerr “a licence to be vulnerable, and confidence to be more revealing”. This record closely follows the frontman’s signposts to recovery while backed by an adventurous new sense of flair. You almost expect the first moments of opener ‘Trouble’s Coming’ to be followed by Nile Rodgers yelling “AHH, FREAK OUT!” Drummer Ben Thatcher’s swaggering AC/DC-style beats lead into a sleazy disco-meets-desert-rock groove as Kerr has a strong word with himself: “Wishing I was someone better, wishing I could start all over again”.
The reckoning continues on ‘Oblivion’ – a wonderful meeting of ‘Robot Rock’ by Daft Punk and ‘Every 1’s A Winner’ by Hot Chocolate that sees the frontman face his “personal apocalypse” after admitting “can’t live like this forever, running out of lifelines” – and the grizzly picture painted by the sheer funk of the title track: “Because all these chemicals dancing through my veins, they don’t kill the cause – they just numb the pain”. The gnarly ‘Who Needs Friends’ sees Kerr growing weary of the “cheap skates”, “vultures” and ne’er do wells that seem to always come attached to bad habits, while the cosmic dance-rock of ‘Limbo’ captures the most profound of hangovers where you “wake up every morning, almost surprised I survived”.
There’s enough heart here to match the hedonism, though. The strutting bravado of ‘Million And One’ is immediately disarmed by Kerr paying tribute to one of those life-saving guardian angels: “You didn’t throw me away, you made me believe I could change”. ‘Hold On’ may sound like the closest you can get to Led Zeppelin getting mashed up at a rave, but it also serves as a testament to the endurance of Kerr’s journey as he spits: “Life is hard when you’re losing, nothing easy is worth doing”.
The album’s true centrepiece, however, may well be ‘Boilermaker’. Already a fan favourite after being road-tested on their most recent tour pre-lockdown, the song is perhaps the perfect crystallisation of ‘Typhoons’ – hip-cocked, eyebrow raised, dancing through the chaos to find a little control. It is the only track on the album produced by Josh Homme (the LP was self-produced aside from the Paul Epworth-assisted ‘Who Needs Friends’), who injects so much of that inimitable, sashaying Queens Of The Stone Age feral menace that one may be left wondering why they didn’t let him get behind the recording desk for the whole record.
Ultimately, though, ‘Typhoons’ is not only their best work to date, but all the better for Royal Blood being free to explore what they’re capable of. The album ends with their biggest sonic departure yet: the airy and reflective John Lennon-esque piano ballad ‘All We Have Is Now’ closes proceedings with a breath of fresh air and produces a clear horizon for the future. “Royal Blood aren’t here merely to drag rock music out of the ghetto,” NME wrote in our review of their debut seven years ago, adding that “their impact will surely stretch beyond rock’s confines”. That may have been a heady prediction, but ‘Typhoons’ shows what can really be achieved if you break your own walls down and let a little light in.
- Release date: April 30
- Record label: Warner