Saturday, 14 March 2015

Royal Blood and Keane: an intriguing echo

At first sight there’s little or nothing in common between Keane, best known for the alternative sounds illustrated by “Everybody’s Changing”, and the hard rock band of the moment Royal Blood who announced their arrival in uncompromising fashion at the Brit Awards. It’s an interesting coincidence that both bands are from Sussex, with only a short distance separating their home towns of Brighton and Battle. But there’s something else that links their respective debut albums.

If you take perhaps the two most instantly recognisable songs from Keane’s debut “Hopes and Fears”, namely “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everybody’s Changing”, what’s instantly noticeable? A very distinct piano introduction. Listen to the whole album, without knowing the back story, and you may be wondering what happened to the guitar. Incredible as it may seem for what became the second best selling UK album of 2004, the lead instrument throughout the album was the piano, without use of a guitar at all. And yet it worked.

Now let’s imagine someone with a fair grounding in traditional hard rock is listening to Royal Blood’s eponymous debut, without any prior knowledge of the band. What’s to be found? Plenty of bludgeoning riffs in Black Sabbath style, for a start. The energy of the new wave of British rock trailblazers from the early 80s. A touch of ZZ Top boogie in “You Can Be So Cruel”. But none of the downside of thrash metal. Quite the opposite – it’s not too far fetched to think that “Figure It Out” could have been ideally suited to Robert Plant in his prime, or even in his mature years.

This is where it gets all the more amusing. Picture a hard rock version of that dreadful BBC show “The Voice”, with a panel member swivelling his chair to confirm his approval of the band and seeing them in the flesh for the first time. Likely reactions: “Where’s the rest of you?” Closely followed by “where’s the lead guitar? Are you taking the mickey?”

Well, no. There are only two of them. And the entire guitar sound comes from a bass. But the fact that Mike Kerr’s instrument is two strings short of a lead does not in any way leave the band sounding two beers short of a six pack. You’ll probably end up listening to the debut album over and over again to spot the gaps that a conventional band would have filled in with a bass behind the lead. And realising why such a legendary guitarist as Jimmy Page believes they are taking rock to a new realm.

Any connection between the Keane and Royal Blood debuts and fiction writing? Just this. There was a time when a conventional mainstream publisher was considered as essential to an author as a lead guitar to a band. Evidently no longer.

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