Album Review: Royal Headache – “High”

Royal Headache by Luke Stephenson

Los Angeles – It’s hard to believe it has been around four years since Australian band Royal Headache released their self-titled debut full length. From an instrumental standpoint, the band churned out fairly standard fast-paced garage rock; setting the band apart from the hundreds of similar bands hocking that style in 2011 was powerfully expressive vocal work of lead singer Shogun. The mononymous singer belted out soul-indebted melodies in a manner few other singers are capable of. This R&B influence gave the band a refreshing sound in what had already becoming a stale genre-revival.

After all this time, Royal Headache has finally released their sophomore follow-up on What’s Your Rupture, simply titled High. It’s a bit strange it took so many years for the quartet to get around to releasing album number two because for the most part it follows the formula of Royal Headache: buzz-saw guitars backing memorable, passionate vocals that feature fairly simplistic lyrical themes. Luckily, the formula is a successful one and there are enough solid or excellent songs to balance out the handful of forgettable moments.

As an album-opener, Royal Headache’s “Never Again” is impossible to top. Opening with a quick, simple, slightly sloppy instrumental intro that plays for nearly a quarter of the song’s running length (granted it’s a 2-minute long song), the real eye-opener is when Shogun makes his first appearance. Sounding like the perfect mix of classic Detroit R&B and classic Detroit proto-punk, it’s the perfect introduction to a band that would make a name for itself on the back of their lead singer’s charismatic vocals.

High does have a pretty good opener of its own in “My Own Fantasy”, even if it cannot live up to its predecessor. Royal Headache waste no time giving the people what they want; Shogun’s voice enters the mix just 10 seconds into the album. While the song may start off slower than the initial gut-punch of “Never Again”, it is a better-structured pop song and despite lyrics about a fantasy life with “tons of girls,” shows increased musical maturity from the band.

Right off the bat, the boys from Sydney offer listeners a song which sticks around than any of the 12 tracks on their debut. What is the length of that record-setting song? Three minutes and eight seconds, of course. The album opener is hardly the longest song on High – the mid-tempo, mid-album track “Wouldn’t You Know” holds that title with a length of 4:29. There’s one other Royal Headache landmark reached on High with “Carolina” representing the closest the band has come to a ballad. Like the good punks they are, the band’s “ballad” still keeps the pacing akin to your typical mid-tempo Tom Petty track.

Any song that opens with the same smashing glass as Minor Threat’s “Bottled Violence” has to be awarded some serious points – and that is exactly the case with “Garbage”. Lyrically the song seems to be in the same vein as Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar”, a screed directed at those holier-than-thou scenesters who believe it’s their job to label what’s “punk” and what isn’t. And while “You’re not punk / You’re just scum” may sound ineloquent when lined up next to “You’re not punk / And I’m telling everyone / Save your breath / I never was one,” the sentiment still elicits a similar visceral response.

The first track to be released as a single from High is the album’s title track. It is mighty catchy and has an inoffensively melodic, arpeggiated chorus, but the song never quite matches the fun and frenetic energy of songs like “Girls” or “Pity” from the band’s debut. In fact, the songs that come closest to offering that level of energy is “Love Her If I Tried”, “Another World” and the album-closer “Electric Shock”.

It’s too easy to find fault in the follow-up to an electric debut. All in all, Royal Headache has released a more-mature version of their debut by taking a more straightforward approach to songwriting, and in the process some energy had to be sacrificed. Despite this, High is still one of the faster-paced albums of 2015 and will probably make its way onto a couple of year-end best-of lists.

Royal Headache is wrapping up a short US tour with some stops along the East Coast. Keep an eye on the band’s website for any information on a European tour or shows in their home country of Australia.

Photo Credit: Luke Stephenson

Matt Matasci

Matt Matasci

Perhaps it was years of listening to the eclectic and eccentric programming of KPIG-FM with his dad while growing up on the Central Coast of California, but Matt Matasci has always rebuffed mainstream music while seeking unique and under-the-radar artists.Like so many other Californian teenagers in the 90s and 00s, he first started exploring the alternative music world through Fat Wreck Chords skate-punk.This simplistic preference eventually matured into a more diverse range of tastes - from the spastic SST punk of Minutemen to the somber folk-tales of Damien Jurado, and even pulverizing hardcore from bands like Converge.He graduated from California Lutheran University with a BA in journalism.Matt enjoys spending his free time getting angry at the Carolina Panthers, digging through the dollar bin at Amoeba, and taking his baby daughter to see the Allah-Lahs at the Santa Monica Pier.
Matt Matasci