Track-by-track: Royal Blood – ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’

Royal Blood’s much anticipated follow-up to their record-breaking 2014 debut arrives today. Clocking in at a tidy ten-song track-list once again (albeit a little shorter than the debut), How Did We Get So Dark? largely contains more of the adrenaline-fuelled hard rock and guitar/drums recipe, with a few minor additions to their core sound. This article aims to lightly dissect each of the ten cuts. Let’s dive into the track-listing, shall we?


 

[01] How Did We Get So Dark?

Immediately, Royal Blood offer us one of the most well-crafted cuts from the new record. Straight away we notice a new element to the duo’s sound (and is frankly overused throughout the album)  – vocal harmonies. Mike Kerr’s backing “oh ooh”‘s nestle in-between the stabs of fuzzy bass as the song builds towards the chorus hook, which happens to be one of the best the band have written thus far. It’s simple and nothing new, yet infectious melody is king here as always. The outro is another high point, Kerr’s palm-muted riff explodes back into the main chord sequence, whilst his falsetto endlessly repeats the track name. Nothing largely different here, but a promising start nonetheless.


 

[02] Lights Out

The lead single follows and after a few listens lends itself to becoming stale and warranting a description of serviceable at best. Again, Kerr plays vocal tag-team with himself with the chorus hook surely becoming a staple sing-along at festivals this summer. Ben Thatcher’s drum fill before the bloated bridge section sounds as jokey as was initially intended as the track returns to the chorus once more to round off the cut.


 

[03] I Only Lie When I Love You

As cringey (and whiny) as Kerr’s vocals and lyricism gets on this track, instrumentally, it really does groove. Structurally, it’s by-far the most simplistic song the duo have here as it’s built entirely around a single riff, which a variant of is played during the chorus. Kerr’s bass tone rivals Josh Homme’s quintessential desert tones, in fact the chorus riff variant sounds like it was pulled straight from ‘Misfit Love’, a cut from Queens of the Stone Age’s 2007 record ‘Era Vulgaris’. A fun short cut if you distance yourself from Kerr’s cesspool of romantic lyrical quips.


 

[04] She’s Creeping

Royal Blood slow the tempo and inject some light funk into a cut reminiscent of ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’, with its all-dominating riff garnished with lashings of octave pedal. It’s cool-sounding yet its repetition and one-dimensional structure ultimately leaves a lot to be desired.


 

[05] Look Like You Know

Despite a mediocre intro and verse sections, the choruses of this track offers a redeemable groove with interesting keyboard licks. Kerr descends the track into bedlam during the bridge with a dark & dingy riff, with supporting erratic drums from Thatcher. Definitely an understated deep cut when stood next to other Royal Blood tracks that have the bigger riffs.


 

[06] Where Are You Now?

Now, the lowlight of the record. This song was originally written and used for HBO’s canned TV show ‘Vinyl’, yet the version here has been stripped of its raw edge and sounds overproduced and manufactured. It just isn’t in keeping with the rest of the track-list. The decision to re-record / mix / produce the initial version was honestly a bizarre one.


 

[07] Don’t Tell

Here we have another understated, and perhaps the bluesiest cut of the record. Kerr lets notes ring out to create caverns of distortion and tremolo. Unfortunately, it’s largely forgettable, until the solo kicks in with its stoner sludge therefore redeeming some memorability.


 

[08] Hook, Line & Sinker

This track sounds like a B-side to the band’s debut, and given that they performed it live at Reading 2015, it’s safe to assume it was written within a similar session and held back for the follow-up. Hell, the debut’s B-sides (most notably ‘Hole’) were quality cuts that deserved a spot in the first team, however Hook, Line & Sinker gets old, real quick. It’s a skippable affair and lacks personality in relation to other Royal Blood cuts.


 

[09] Hole in Your Heart

This is where things get a little more interesting. Kerr utilises his fingers for something other than mindless riffing and stabs at a retro-sounding organ, creating the instrumental backbone to this album highlight. The chorus sounds like a mash-up of the band’s own song ‘Come On Over’, Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ and early-era Muse. The intermittent dynamic between the slick bluesy verse grooves and grungier chorus refrains creates a definable moment where Royal Blood truly innovate on their established sound.


 

[10] Sleep

Like the debut with ‘Better Strangers’, the closing track here proves to be another sure-fire highlight. As groggy as its title suggests, Kerr whips out a sludgy fretboard dance, whilst his subdued vocals create an investing aura. A disappointing solo, as it sounds like something they’ve churned out many cuts prior and simply could not come up with an inventive bridge section.


 

It would have been a gargantuan task to top their debut as it seemed they had exhausted all ideas that could stem from just a bass guitar and drum set. Their second record tweaks the formula in a very mild manner, however not much ‘innovation’ outside of additional vocal layers and a couple keyboard parts. Kerr’s lyricism & vocals are not particularly interesting but then again, when did listeners tune in to Royal Blood just for the heavily-cliched lyrics about his romantic experiences?


 

Essential tracks: How Did We Get So Dark? // Hole in Your Heart // Sleep

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