From the day Dee Dee Ramone shouted out “1, 2, 3, 4!” for the Ramones’ first performance in 1974, garage rock and punk haven’t paused to take a breather. Since then, finding lyrics that promote contemplation in the punk world has been a challenge — that is, until Royal Headache crashed the party.
Most garage rock and punk fans don’t associate the genre with poetic moments, but from the start, Royal Headache’s lead singer Shogun took the task of writing lyrics seriously. His contemplative approach to songwriting made Royal Headache’s self-titled debut album one of the best of 2011. Four long years later, after nearly breaking up, their follow-up has arrived. High, released Friday, takes a mature approach to the highs and lows of life, making it a must-listen.
At its core, Royal Headache’s formula isn’t far from late-’70s punk rock — barre chords galore, steady and invigorating drums and thumping bass lines dominate the entire album. During a quick listen, some tracks aren’t distinguishable, resulting in a few tiresome melodies. The use of reverb also causes a few punchy moments to fall short of their goals.
With just a casual listen, listeners won’t notice how evolved the group’s songwriting has become. Whether Shogun is the sole writer or his band members contribute, it’s the lyrics that propel this record forward.
The best song of the record is easily the sixth track, “Garbage.” The sound of shattering glass serves as a prelude to the lead singer’s frank declarations: “I took your abuse, tried to show you heart, but it was no use/You’re as low as they come. You’re not punk, you’re just scum.” On paper, the lyrics sound rudimentary, but through Shogun’s screams and utter anger, the true energy of this record comes to light.
After that, everything opens up. A second listen puts High in a brand new light, and its soulful lyrics provide reason for the majority of the album’s composition choices. Shogun’s passion for songwriting makes bare-bones instrumentals a logical choice rather than a mistake.
It’s clear why Royal Headache didn’t change styles much from their first album. The band members deliver classic melodies and lyrical grit with unrivaled passion, but the multiple dimensions to their songs make the group a standout in a sea of similar groups.
High could easily be labeled as another punk throwback to the genre’s heyday, but that would be the easy way out. Royal Headache builds on top of a long-standing formula by providing some of the best songwriting punk has heard since the band’s debut in 2011. It might lack the variation required to make it one of the best albums of the year, but for fans of garage rock and punk, High is a definite win.