Warner Records/Black Mammoth
There were two key moments in the making of Royal Blood’s third LP ‘Typhoons’ and they both happened in the same short space of time. Having absconded to Josh Homme’s Pink Duck studio in January 2019, Mike Kerr (bass/vocals) and Ben Thatcher (drums), fell upon a creative freedom that was a direct influence from the Queens of the Stone Age man’s methodology of “what if?” As Kerr says about the recording process at Homme’s sonic HQ “it’s a place to have fun. He is very good at creating an environment where you feel comfortable putting forward an idea no matter how crazy it might be”.
These early sessions helped establish a blueprint that utilised the duo’s love of Daft Punk, Justice and all things danceable, and birthed fuzzy yet funky stomper ‘Boilermaker’. The undeniable fingerprints of Homme’s day job can be heard in the guttural grooves and the weird, woozy verses that ooze with a sultry mischievousness. The second revelation that occurred over this time was how Kerr came face to face with his own struggles with drugs and booze, realising he needed to get his shit together. This is typified by the confessional “I was looking for some kind of saviour/someone still counting on my worst behaviour/with devil eyes and magic hands”.
Kerr’s sobriety and the band’s new funky direction make for an album with a curious juxtaposition; ‘Typhoons’ acts as a moment of reflection for the Royal Blood man, as he admits the LP’s creation was from the moment he found himself in a good place but his lyrical inspiration dips back into the period of his life when it was out of control. What you have is an album that, for the most part, is joyous and upbeat sonically, but its narrative follows a darker path. From the off this is exemplified by opening track and lead single ‘Trouble’s Coming’; built on a lithe bassline and a disco wiggle, the lead man quickly states “I let my demons take hold and choke on me”, while capping off the song, as it sashays into a euphoric piano breakdown with “wishing I was someone better/wishing I could start all over again”. ‘Mad Vision’s has the Sussex based outfit invoking the late, great Daft Punk, with a four to the floor beat and a scuzzy bass tone that sounds like the robots at their most distorted. Cut that through with some falsetto backing vocals and pockets of airy euphoria, and you’ve got a sound that encapsulates ‘Typhoons’ penchant for a supple hip-shake. Thematically Kerr seems to pendulum swing between being stuck in his self-destructive mind-set “I don’t want to change/I don’t know how I make the same mistakes” and the feeling of catharsis “it feels so good to be letting go”. The album’s eponymous moment is a certified banger, primed to create havoc once live music resumes. Amongst the rubbery funk, the notion of substance abuse rears its ugly head “’cause all these chemicals/dancing through my veins/they don’t kill the cause/they just numb the pain”.
Speaking of bangers, ‘Oblivion’ gyrates and throbs like a Death from Above 1979 meets the Bee-Gees disco-mosh-pit slayer. Casting a darker tone over the record is ‘Who Needs Friends’, a track that drops the pace for something slower and blunted but no less funky. Recounting a toxic situation, the band’s bass-slinger takes aim at negative figures in his life “slip inside my sick dream/constant creatures all around me/I got leeches on my right/let-downs on the fence”. As a direct response to ‘Who Needs Friends’ poisonousness, ‘Million and One’ is where the seeds of recovery began to sprout, as Kerr details the help he received through his journey towards getting sober “you should have run but you stayed/you made me believe I could change”. Again, the twin attack of electronic glitches and a driven, bass-drum flecked stomp captures the group’s fondness for fusing dance music and rock. Like a trade- off between Muse’s ‘Supermassive Blackhole’ and AM-era Arctic Monkeys, ‘Hold On’ bounds along with an infectious slinkiness in a song that sounds like a helping hand being offered back to Kerr’s past self “life is hard when you’re losing/nothing easy is worth doing/save yourself/don’t throw in the towel.” As a total departure to the riotous romp through Kerr’s bounce back from the bottle ‘All We Have Is Now’ ends ‘Typhoons’ on a melancholic note. Bass, drums and electronic facets are replaced by the spectral tones of Kerr’s soothing vocals and a heartfelt piano motif. There’s an acute rawness and emotion on display, as the unit’s mouthpiece lays his soul bare “I want to spend our lives together/while we have the time” as the album comes to a bruised and heartfelt stop.
‘Typhoons’ is a celebration of Royal Blood pushing themselves artistically and of a man candidly and bravely documenting his recovery from the brink.