Royal Blood's frontman Mike Kerr made headlines this year after criticising the audience of Radio 1's Big WeekendBruce Baker / Flickr

During a controversial performance at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Royal Blood stridently asserted that they make “rock music”, something they seemed to believe the crowd was unaware of. Lead singer and bassist Mike Kerr ranted that the audience didn’t know who the band were and that they had to “clap themselves” having received such little applaud. Kerr made a scene but, in doing so, issued a mission statement for the next Royal Blood album. It was going to be pure, unadulterated rock music, right? Yet, while one might expect Back to the Water Below to harken back to Royal Blood’s rock roots, the album seems to have an identity crisis.

“Kerr has clearly been influenced by the sound of the 70s”

Admirably, the Brighton-based duo have tried to evolve their sound on this latest record. Many of the tracks include prominent piano, something unheard of on their prior records. Kerr has clearly been influenced by the sound of the 70s, with certain tracks like ‘There Goes My Cool’ feeling like a cut from Bowie’s Hunky Dory. The same applies to ‘Pull Me Through’, the album’s second single and one that seems to carve a new identity for the band. It is desperately clear, however, that they haven’t fully committed to this new sound and thus many songs derivative of their old style remain on the project.

The opening track and lead single ‘Mountains At Midnight’ launches the album with energy, killer riffs and decent vocals. However, something feels off: the song doesn’t have the same punch as previous opener ‘Out Of The Black’ or the catchiness of ‘Trouble’s Coming’ from their last album, Typhoons. Instead, it feels like it was written to appeal to their fans rather than because they actually wanted to. It is almost as if Royal Blood don’t trust their fans to like their new style so they have thrown in some “classic” Royal Blood songs to entertain them.

“It is almost as if Royal Blood don’t trust their fans to like their new style”

The result is a jarring and disconnected track list. While, in themselves, the songs on Back to the Water Below aren’t bad, as a collective, they aren’t particularly impressive. Indeed, you sometimes get sonic whiplash from the change in styles. In an attempt to keep their old-school fans engaged, halfway through the album, the duo insert two of their more traditional songs, ‘Tell Me When It’s Too Late’ and ‘Triggers’. However, these are surrounded by the slower ‘The Firing Line’ and ‘How Many More Times’, the latter of which is a rip-off of one of their own songs, ‘Don’t Tell’. This effort not to lose the attention of their fans midway through the record results in a disjointed setlist and speaks to Royal Blood’s lack of confidence in their change of direction.


Mountain View

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Nevertheless, the album is not all doom and gloom; there are some truly great tracks that are well worth returning to. The closing song ‘Waves’ feels like the realisation of Royal Blood’s aims for the rest of the record. It opens with an assortment of moody and sinister synths and has an unusual structure, which the rest of the record lacks. Beginning with an all too familiar versechorus structure, the song then slowly builds towards an explosion of sound, resulting in a truly climatic end for the album. The aforementioned ‘Tell Me When It’s Too Late’ also has several killer riffs and energetic production that allows it to shine. ‘There Goes My Cool’ is an equally fantastic song with catchy piano that, despite being unusual for the duo, is executed well.

There are clearly smatterings of greatness on this album. After all, Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are talented musicians. However, it constantly feels like they aren’t giving themselves enough time to truly explore new sounds and push their boundaries. ‘Waves’, the longest and best song on the album, clocks in at just 3:48, with many songs on the album not even hitting the 3-minute mark. For an album to be this short, it needs to have standout moments from front to back and, unfortunately, this cannot be said of Back to the Water Below. Their aim to innovate their style was bold but their lack of commitment to this aim hampers the overall flow and feel of the project despite some standout tracks.