Is it still possible for the charts to shock?
These days, whenever a new number one causes headlines it tends to have more to do with a raunchy music video or the rise of an online nobody than any kind of seismic shift in the musical landscape.
Some argue that the album chart is utterly meaningless. LP sales continue to decline and topping the UK album chart is less a challenge and more the default outcome of putting out new material. Unless there’s a pop phenomenon like Adele or Taylor Swift lurking in the charts, the highest profile new entry will come out on top, even if the sales figures underwhelm.
This grim state of affairs will not dampen the spirits of Royal Blood and it should not stop critics from getting more than a little excited about the astonishing rise of a brand-spanking-new rock group. Royal Blood, A.K.A. Brighton duo Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, have topped this week’s UK Album Chart with a debut chocked full of snappy, powerful and addictive little bruisers masquerading as pop songs. However, it is not the achievement (which has been rightly derided as routine) that impresses, but the nature in which they did it.
Royal Blood weren’t going head-to-head with no-name dross or a collection of late summer left overs, but the debut of Arianne Grande – a former Disney Princess who has released two of the year’s finest pop songs – and Ed Sheeran, whose sophomore LP continues to sell like hot cakes. To place ahead of either artist would be worthy of commendation, but to beat both is down right staggering – and that’s not the half of it.
The duo, who are beloved by Kerrang! but hardly a fixture in the NME, didn’t just top the charts, they did it in style. Royal Blood shifted 66,000 units in one week alone, going silver in the process (most young rock bands would be happy with that outcome over the course of 12 months). To put the hyperbole on hold, that figure is dwarfed by the 363,735 units that Whatever People Say I Am That Is What I’m Not (Arctic Monkey’s debut) mustered in 2006, but – in case you haven’t noticed – this not 2006 and rock music no longer rules the roost.
Rock has a palpable problem converting media hype into hard and fast sales. The majority of the artists dubbed “the next big thing” since 2006 (think Glasvegas) have fallen by the wayside and, ironically, artists who’ve received a critical battering (Jake Bugg, Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons) have flourished.
Royal Blood represent a rare convergence of critical consensus, media hype and genuine fan enthusiasm. Their success is no illusion: they have delivered the fastest selling album by a guitar band in three years. The last debutant to top their figures was Noel Gallagher & The High Flying Birds. Not a new artist at all, but a legend with two decades worth of critical and cultural cache.
What now for Royal Blood? A suitably large celebration one would hope, followed by what is sure to be one of the most hotly anticipated tours of 2014.
Once their already confirmed Academy tour is concluded, will their management risk booking an arena? What do 66k in sales mean in real terms. Are Royal Blood one of the biggest bands in the country? Do they feel like it? These are questions that cannot be answered by speculation; they can only be proved on the road again and again and again.
The possibilities appear endless, but the pitfalls are apparent. Acts have blazed across the sky like comets, only to recede almost as quickly as they arrived (remember The Darkness? How about Monster Magnet?). In many senses the hard work is just beginning, superstardom doesn’t suit everyone – it is a test of character as much as it is a test of musicianship (the aforementioned Arctic Monkeys have only recently come to terms with the weight of expectation they carry – atoning for a series of high profile missteps).
What Guitar Planet can say is that the Brighton duo are making dynamic music that stays true to both the contemporary swagger that the young readers of Kerrang! would expect, but also showcases a deep understanding of rock’s history. Royal Blood feel like genuine lovers of guitar music, like The Black Keys without the slavish devotion to the past.
This is not Neanderthal nostalgia, Royal Blood is the thrilling, riff riding, snake hipped, sound of the present. Without giving too much away (GP has a review forthcoming) it is genuinely exhilarating to see a pair of millennials who aren’t trying to sound or look like 90s throwbacks – this Brighton band are conquering the world on their own terms.
Brutish, brazen and ungodly satisfying, Royal Blood rode a barrage of chugging bass grooves all the way to the top of the charts in 2014.
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