Album review: Royal Headache, High

Words by Matt Hall 

Royal Headache’s latest LP High is symbolic of a band’s progression. After releasing their tight, heart-pumping s/t LP in 2011, the band has spent the last four years refining their music and perfecting their punky anthemic sound.

High kicks off with My Own Fantasy, an upbeat foot-tapper that revels in its seventies Brit-punk aesthetic, capturing the fun-loving ethos but intertwining a unique blend of bittersweet nostalgia. As frontman Shogun muses on his own fantasy, shouting that he “used to live in a world of rock’n’roll and tonnes of girls”, the listener can resonate with the idea of youthful exuberance that we’ve all dreamt of. The colloquial word choice of tonnes gives it a specifically Australian twinge that only adds to the record’s iniquity. While one word choice is not so dramatic, it is emblematic of one the albums strongest qualities: confidence, which is something that Shogun admitted to lacking in the band’s first record.

There is confidence in the repetitious punk lyricism in the title track High. There is confidence in the structure of the songs. In Love Her if I Tried for instance, where a more insecure band may have busied up the track by overusing lead arpeggios to fill out the riffs, Royal Headache relies on the bursting energy of the music to keep the listener engaged. This is apparent on most of the album, and for the most part it works.

The confidence of Shogun’s voice and his willingness to put his singing at the forefront of the mix is as endearing as it is powerful. He perfectly blends punk urgency with a Paul Kelly like vulnerability. Speaking of Paul Kelly, the two track combo late in the album of Love Her if I Tried and Carolina act out a beautiful kind of two-part Paul Kelly melody-medley, as both tracks in succession, really display the well crafted songwriting that Royal Headache is capable of, as well as the promise of what the band is growing in to.

Carolina is a harrowing rock ballad with fitting lead guitar, perfect tempo, and emotional vocals that show how a three-minute track can tell a powerful story. You could draw a comparison to punk band Lucero in that both bands seem to have a knack for knowing how little to say, and how to lace their songs with metaphors while being as straight-forward and simple as possible. Lines like “she’s got the kind of heart that you can trust” and “the only one that loved me turned me out in to the sea” tug at the heart-strings and display how effective Royal Headache is when they move away from their high energy punk style.

The album suffers only in its lack of variance. While songs like Wouldn’t You Know, Love Her if I Tried, and Carolina show the slower, more thoughtful side of the band, it doesn’t feel like they spent enough time exploring that sound. But as mentioned at the start, this is an album of progress. You can see Royal Headache finding their voice, and they have been rewarded with rabid fans, who stormed the stage at the Sydney Opera House, as well as critical acclaim.

Overall, High is a very good album, verging on great, with signs of greatness that if the band continues on its current trajectory they will achieve in no time at all. Those glimpses of brilliance are exciting, and if the progression from their first LP to the second is anything to go by, then my expectations for their next record are extremely ‘high’.

Can’t end on a pun that terrible, so better let you know that High is available for purchase on bandcamp for $9.99. Check out their overseas tour dates here, or you can catch them at Fairgrounds festival on Saturday the 5th of December.