Monday, May 9, 2016

Album Review: Royal Tusk - DealBreaker

One of the things that most annoys me about being a fan of guitar-based music is that so few of the people who listen to or make it care as much as I do about melody. So often, when you hear a band that has a big guitar sound, you can know within five seconds that they use that as an excuse for not putting in the effort of writing interesting and catchy vocal hooks. So it was interesting when I heard about Royal Tusk, to read that they believe in both heavy guitars and pop songwriting. Those are two things that I love, and that I do believe go together well, so I was excited about being able to hear the result.

"Dynamo" opens the album with plenty of swagger, riding a solid groove and stabbing organs, recalling the spirit of the 70s while maintaining a modern sheen that makes it clear this isn't a nostalgia trip (not that there's anything wrong with that). The best part of the song, though, is the chorus that comes in and pumps up the energy. It is, to borrow the pun, a dynamo. In those first three minutes of the record, there's a very clear indication that Royal Tusk has found the right balance of how to make accessible rock music that retains the core power of the form.

"Curse The Weather" is even better. It's a more modern sounding song, and it uses the heaviness of power chords played with a nearly perfect guitar tone to anchor a swinging pop chorus that is destined to get caught in heads everywhere. The mix of tribal, pounding tom drums and big hooks is the sort of thing that should be the future of rock music, rather than the dark sludge and screaming that populates much of the rock chart these days. In fact, one of the best things I can say about "DealBreaker" is that the production is not murky, and the guitars retain the brightness and bite you can only get when there are ample high frequencies. The record sounds big and lively, which is essential to rock and roll.

"Don't Get Me Wrong" is a huge throwback to late 60s pop music. The bridge with layered backing vocals is right out of the early fore-runners to power pop, while the guitar solo has the trademark honk that could have poured from George Harrison's guitars in an Abbey Road studio. It brings a smile to my face to hear those kinds of influences come forward on a guitar-driven song.

There's a slight difference between the songs that are more pop-oriented, and those that are more straight-ahead rock and roll. I tend to think that the band's songwriting is better hewed to their pop direction, so songs like "I'll Wait", with it's "Jessie's Girl" vibe, strike me as being their best material. Their less pop material isn't quite as sharp, especially the two six minute tracks, which both spend their extended time on lengthy guitar solos that don't really fit the tenor of the record. Royal Tusk is at their best when the songwriting is sharp, tight, and to the point.

That encompasses the majority of the record, which makes the ultimate judgment of "DealBreaker" an easy one. Debut albums are supposed to show us not just where a band is, but where they can go in the future. In both cases, Royal Tusk has nailed it. "DealBreaker" is a really good pop-leaning rock and roll record, and also sets up a future where they can use their ability to write hooks to either to to bring rock music back to the mainstream, or to allow them the freedom to experiment without fear of going so far that they lose the ability to write a good song. "DealBreaker" shows us that 'pop' doesn't have to be a dirty word in the rock world. Sometimes, a good hook goes down oh so sweet.

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