I first listened to the new Royal Headache album at the rather disturbing time of seven in the morning; I’d got up early before work and had time to kill. At this time of day, I normally wouldn’t be capable of love for anyone or of feeling any joy in general, without a trace of warm sentiment. However, this particular morning my instant coffee had done its job and I felt capable of at least listening to music.
The album that I put on, Royal Headache’s ‘High,’ is the follow up to the Sydney band’s excellent self-titled album – which I played to death in my car, amongst other places. I always have an image in my head of Royal Headache being a band who have their gear set up, head straight in and cut their album to tape in one day with it flowing. You get the impression that their songs were being channelled for the first time in the take that you’re listening to.
This is a feeling I get from tons of my favourite bands: The Hipshakes’ ‘Maximum Growth and Vigour’, Gentleman Jesse’s records and bands like Urinals all have that same sense of ease about them. ‘High,’ to me, sounds like Royal Headache going back to that room with the gear ready and waiting. But of course its been three years since their debut, and the feelings they are channelling are different. I was struck immediately by how the record is both familiar and not.
There are songs which could have fit on the first record, and there are songs such as ‘Carolina’ and ‘Garbage’ which take the band into new territory. ‘Carolina’ is a ballad which reminds me of The Replacements’ ‘Unsatisfied’, the melodies are different but the sentiment of the two are similar. It is a love-torn ballad, the kind that few bands can pull off without sounding too earnest. Alongside the aforementioned Replacements, Royal Headache make it clear that they are one of those bands.
In contrast, ‘Garbage’ is far more aggressive in style than anything they have done before. The bass groove ticks away in motorik fashion, as singer Shogun works himself into a rage – “you belong in the garbage, you belong in the trash” a real diatribe which could be aimed at some guy who thinks being an aimless arsehole makes him punk. In watching live videos of the band I’ve always been struck by the singer’s onstage demeanour – something personally reminiscent of a hardcore singer – and this is their first song where he sounds like one as well, and it suits them. If these songs represent a departure, then ‘Little star’ is classic Royal Headache, a blasting love letter to someone – “Little Star remember when we spent the nights above them all,” they are lines which don’t need analysis, they are so direct and effective. The enduring theme of this album is love, the kind that Buddy Holly or Sam Cooke sang about, that same kind which The Clash said had been covered.
In 2015, songs like these are as welcome as ever to me, because anything channelled into songs becomes an ideal or a representation. Most memories can be improved with the glow of nostalgia. Royal Headache represent this to me, the moods they sing about caught like bugs in amber. All of this leads to a very simple feeling conveyed by this record, which is one of fun – very simply a blast. It was Kurt Vonnegut who said “I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did’. By the time I got into my car to drive to work, I could safely say that Royal Headache had managed the very same.