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Following a tumultuous break-up in 2013 Royal Headache come together one last time to deliver dark and romantic garage punk on final LP High.
Emerging in 2008 alongside a wave of other Australian underground bands such as Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Deaf Wish, The UV Race and Straight Arrows, Royal Headache’s music was considered by many to be the answer to a perceived cultural stagnation sweeping the Sydney music scene.
Honest, open and a little rough around the edges, Sydney punks Royal Headache deliver big time on their sophomore album High. Farewell you talented bastards.
Comprised of bassist Joe, drummer Shortty, guitarist Law and the talented Shogun on vocals, the 2011 release of the four-piece’s self-titled debut quickly attracted international acclaim and a large Australian following. Staunch retrofiles, the quartet’s musical influences span decades but at the core of their sound lays Shogun’s soulful 60s inspired vocals accompanied by driving guitar hooks and bitey lyricisms which take cue from early U.K. punk acts like The Buzzcocks and The Jam.
Unfortunately for fans and supporters Shogun walked away from the group in 2013 citing a number of tensions and personal issues, namely a dissatisfaction with the music industry and a struggle to come to terms with the growing expectations placed on the band due to their growing profile.
During their time away Shogun began a new project which developed into Low Life, while Ben continued to play in Bed Wetting Bad Boys and Law started a small business dealing in imported pinball machines. While the band still maintained they had officially parted ways, they reconvened for a final tour and to complete work on sophomore LP High which remained unfinished at the time of the band’s dissolution.
As with their previous LP, the band’s characteristically introspective and well-crafted songs resonate and connect while exploring the mundane hardships and brief glimmering moments of sweetness that pervade everyday life. Opening with the catchy militant punk rhythm and shouted vocals of My Own Fantasy, heart-on-sleeve lyrics “I used to live in a world of rock and roll and heaps of girls / it was my own fantasy” convey a sense of bittersweet remorse which might encapsulate Shogun’s feelings towards his time with the band.
The uplifting yet dark tone of tracks Love Her If I Tried, Need You and High demonstrate perfectly the group’s penchant for delivering infectious and endearing songs while packing as much energy as possible into a two minute track.
Replete with smooth instrumentals and Shogun’s ragged crooning, Wouldn’t You Know stands out, with the boys doing away with the more strident elements of their signature sound to create something which could easily be mistaken for some gem of a long forgotten 60s garage-pop B-side. The dark adversarial lyrics of Garbage bleaken the tone of the album with Shogun throwing out lyrics like “You’re garbage/you’re trash” and venomously pejorative closing line “You belong in Melbourne“.
More emotive moments take a back seat with fiery closing tracks Another World, Electric Shock and Little Star. As if providing a coda to a band’s existence to be inadvertently uncovered by future generations these hard and fast final tracks conjure up the adrenaline fuelled excitement of glimpsing the group through a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in some sweltering and beer splattered dive bar.
Perhaps highlighting a core existential tension which ultimately contributed to the dissolution of Royal Headache High collects a number of tracks which stand up as the praiseworthy creations of a group of musicians dedicated to the ideal of making great music above all else.
Inversely, the attention this great songwriting inevitably attracts has taken the group out of the underground and plunged them into a mainstream world they neither understand nor willingly accept. But putting the politics of it all to one side the shambolic garage punk sounds, catchy hooks and scruffy romanticism of High makes for a great album and a fitting conclusion to a short lived but memorable Australian band.
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