In 2009, I put out a call on social media asking what people’s favourite albums of that year were. A friend living on the East Coast, Matt Bellair, shot me a link to a live recording of Royal Headache playing a gig in Sydney. I’d never heard of the band before, but the music was undeniably, alternating between fast thrash and bouncy bopping. More than anything else Royal Headache’s vocals stood out; it wasn’t the stereotypical, guttural who-the-fuck-cares-about-vocal-clarity bark of punk. Instead, the music was layered with a soulful crooning voice, Australian accented yet clearly enunciated. Their songs themselves were catchy and pop in structure, basically odes to girls, love, and yearning. All of this promise was made-good-on in their 2011 self-titled debut.
Their second, High, is released in the aftermath of a Mess and Noise interview last year with vocalist Shogun announcing his departure and interest in expanding his own music. It’s a pretty candid interview, one that foregoes diplomatic polish in favour of thinking out loud. While touring is promised to promote this second album, this might, potentially, be the last we see of Royal Headache. If this is in fact the last we see of the band, it represents a satisfying conclusion to the band’s story. High is a continuation of their ingratiating sound with a few detours into areas where they’d be less classified as punk and more in keeping with the recent Go-Betweens revival of acts like The Twerps and Dick Diver (particularly the track ‘Carolina’).
Tunes like the album title track, bop and swing with open-hearted candour (“Now I want to be with yoooooou…”) and images of awkward love amidst coastal driving, like some sort of Australian version of American Graffiti nostalgia (I guess The FJ Holden, I don’t know, never saw it). Then you have slower cuts like ‘Wouldn’t You Know’, which have the feeling of a lonely night staring out a window or at the wall, melancholic jams suitable to an Andrew McGahan novel about Gen-X-ers. The instrumentation by the band – Law, Joe, and Shorty – remains tight and tuneful, given a work out on numbers like ‘Garbage’ and ‘Love Her If I Tried’, in which they hum along with that classic punk reappropriation of 1960s pop, infatuated with the immediate hooks and saccharine sentiments even as they tear down the fluff and sheen.
Not even reaching the half hour mark of a running time, Royal Headache structure the album like they structure their songs: short and sweet. Hence, their repeatability remains king, the record returned to the start before it even ends to keep the party-of-one-longing-for-a-party-of-two feeling going. Thanks again to Matt Bellair for letting me know about this band and being a good dude. (Music Ed: Matt Bellair offered to let me stay on his couch for a week after meeting him once – confirmed good dude.)
High by Royal Headaches is released 21st August 2015.
Review by Tristan Fidler