For all its genre-defying, flag-burning, fist-pumping bluster, there’s an awful lot of soul buried beneath the stony guise of punk rock. Like good soul music, punk cuts to the core, and the fun of being a fan is letting those raw emotions take over. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same chords or melodies over and over. The sentiment is universal and infinite.
At its heart, Royal Headache is a soul band. The four Australian lads trade in the same humid, southern sounds you would’ve heard beaming out of Memphis or New Orleans not too long ago, albeit Royal Headache do it at a revved-up extreme. Their self-titled debut— which has already earned the young group some noticeable noise in their hometown of Sydney—is finally being released to a wider American audience, and given the ingredients, it’s easy to eat right up.
Like any great DIY group, Royal Headache first made their name through their live shows. Kudos to producer Mikey Young (also of fellow Aussies Eddy Current Suppression Ring) as he manages to capture that sweaty delirium almost in three dimensions. It’s not a hard-on-the-ears, carbon copy of a basement show with a shitty PA. It’s the sound of a cooking band truly cooking it in the studio. Everything sounds like it’s about to jump the rails at any given moment, with the lead singer (known simply as “Shogun”) egging them on with his impassioned howl.
Each song is almost absurdly designed to get feet moving and hearts racing. They’re all around two minutes apiece with that same verse-chorus-verse structure that’s been burned into every pop music lover’s DNA since the birth of rock and roll. At times they resemble the Buzzcocks’ spitting swagger, and the guitars can be as sweetly jagged as a lead from a Strokes demo. Yet what they lack in originality is drowned out by the sheer fun of it all. Try not to bob your head along to “Never Again.” Try not to scream your voice raw with Shogun as he does on “Psychotic Reaction.” Hell, try not to swing from the nearest rafter on “Girls.”
Though it’s the variety of emotions that keep listeners coming back for more. Shogun himself has that rare voice that’s both sweet and sad. There’s no denying the moony-eyed power of “Distant and Vague” where he sings like a young Lennon, the teddy boy tough gone soft. “Distant and vague every time I try to talk to you / Don’t know what to say / Tell me what my heart’s supposed to do,” he croons as the band follows suit with a greasy doo-wop beat. No one’s happy without love, he reasons, sounding oddly wise given the teenage hormones swirling around.
Puppy love aside, there’s still some dirt underneath the fingernails. Yes, Shogun’s beating down the door of his one true love on “Down The Lane,” but when he takes her home his “bedroom smells like cum.” Throughout the record, awkward moments abound, from the stuttering, about-to-break drumbeats to Shogun’s occasional dips into an out-of-tune caterwaul. Yet it’s this kind of shaggy-dog charm that’s hard not to enjoy. There’s no big message, no generation-defining sound. The simple cover says it all: there’s just a band playing on a blacktop. Bring some friends if you’re interested in a good time.