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Royal Headache – Royal Headache

on May 07, 2012, 7:58am

Royal Headache almost destroyed itself. After recording the instrumentation for its self-titled debut in just two days, the Aussie quartet spent 15 months bickering about the final mixes. Lead singer Shogun temporarily quit the band because of the turmoil. It was uncertain if the album would ever come out.

Fortunately, it did, and Royal Headache’s brand of R&B-tinged garage rock caught the attention of The Black Keys, which courted the band for multiple summer tour dates. Selling out arena after arena, The Black Keys are arguably rock’s biggest act, and to tour with them now is to tour with Boston in ’76, or U2 in ’87. Royal Headache has commercial relevance within its grasp, and the stateside release of its debut (originally issued last September in Australia) comes just in time.

Shogun croons with soulful gusto—a voice born for FM airwaves. But Royal Headache’s lo-fi production stems Shogun’s radio ascent before it starts. The album sounds like a ragged mess—a straight-to-tape portrait of a band thrashing about in the garage. Although the aesthetic suits Royal Headache’s style, it hampers the band’s most dynamic quality: Shogun’s voice is covered in a wash of treble-y guitar when it deserves to be front and center.

Royal Headache hasn’t honed a distinct songwriting voice, but it does an above-average job of emulating its rock ‘n’ roll heroes. The buzz-saw hardcore of “Psychotic Episode” unabashedly cops Hüsker Dü, while on “Down the Lane” Shogun yelps with a swagger that’s equal parts Robert Pollard and Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes. Royal Headache lives and dies by the verse-chorus-verse structure. Without strong melodies, “Distant and Vague” and “Honey Joy” come off as limp and unfinished. And the decision to include two momentum-killing instrumentals (“Two Kinds of Love”, “Wilson Street”) was a poor one.

Royal Headache commits some amateur mistakes on its debut, but to expect anything else out of a young band like this would be unfair. Hopefully, everything gets sorted out by the time the group hits the big stage with The Black Keys. With a handful of infectious hooks and a gem of a vocalist, Royal Headache has the tools to capture an arena audience by the ears.

Essential Tracks: “Psychotic Episode”, “Down the Lane”