Thursday, April 15th, 2021

Royal Blood – Limbo

We follow up our ’00s rock nostalgia with some more ’00s rock nostalgia…


Scott Mildenhall: The newfound ambition of Royal Blood has led to some divertingly urgent singles — “Typhoons”, “Trouble’s Coming”, and the latter’s Purple Disco Machine remix — but “Limbo” goes a step too far. The tautness remains, but it’s wrapped up in a sprawling mess of semi-baroque semi-psychedelia. It’s less limbo and more pole vault, but still fails to clear the bar.

Will Adams: When Pranks Go Too Far: This Brighton Band’s A&R Guy Told Them “Yeah the song’s pretty solid but can you make the chorus sound like Chromeo?” And They Didn’t Realize He Was Joking.

Jeffrey Brister: Sleazy disco-rock? Snarling, snotty, glammy vocals? YES. “Limbo” has a appealing sleekness that clashes perfectly with the growling saw-blade bass. And Mike Kerr’s bluesy voice growls, yowls, and howls with ease, generating a neat little “menacing late-night drive” atmosphere.

Thomas Inskeep: See, this is how you make (what used to be called) dance-oriented rock in the 2020s: you don’t have to abandon the “rock” portion of the equation, as so many bands seem to have done these days. RIYL “Mr. Brightside,” obv., though Royal Blood’s guitars carry a bit more heft.

Taylor Alatorre: They do such an impeccable job of replicating the signature fake-guitar crunch of 2007 electro-house that they think it entitles them to a one-and-a-half minute wordless outro in which no new musical ideas are introduced. It doesn’t. They’re still not a dance act. But what an impressive feat of audio engineering, though.

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Royal Blood is, at its core, a rhythm section with vocals. They’re at their best when they recognize what makes that work: synchronization. It’s on full display here, with the FX-cloaked bass and hard rock drums joined precisely at the hip on the verse, and bolstered by synths on the chorus. Kerr seems to have internalized at his core one of the most important lessons a bassist can learn: always play on the kick. Pair that with disco-inspired synths and vocals, and you have what feels like a perpetual motion machine, giving us a moment to breathe only on the chorus. 

Claire Biddles: Chillingly reminiscent of mid-to-late 2000s indie disco sounds, “Limbo” is so sleekly produced that any interest slips off it like water. To be successful, rock bands dabbling in pop or dance music signifiers have to give themselves over a bit more, tart themselves up, and risk losing some of their machismo in the process. It’s ironic that they’re called Royal Blood, because this is so safe, so laddish, so bloodless, in comparison to the heights that they’re aiming for.

Harlan Talib Ockey: If you close your eyes, you can see this song’s Pro Tools file. Everything is rigidly snapped to grid, nothing is the correct volume, and the guitar plugins are labeled “chainsaw” and “garbage disposal.” Almost every aspect of “Limbo” is brazenly, hilariously ugly, careening from stiff Waveshaper-y synth presets, to the steel-gargling bass guitar tone that renders any actual notes unrecognizable, to Kerr’s strained and tuneless efforts to be heard above the cacophony. The song doesn’t even offer us the courtesy of a cohesive structure, since there’s no attempt to stitch any of its discrete sections together. (God, they’re separate Pro Tools files, aren’t they?) The chorus dials the tumult back just enough for us to hit a half-decent groove — we have melodies! chord outlines! — but it’s hardly worth the whiplash it takes to get there from the verses.

Samson Savill de Jong: I dunno what to tell you, man. I like Muse, and this is pretty much a Muse pastiche, so it appeals. I was promised wild, but this isn’t that; it’s far too controlled at all times to be considered unhinged. But it tickles the right parts of my brain, and I can’t help but be alright with it.

Katherine St Asaph: Freeze-dried sleaze, for those still psyching themselves up to someday get back out there with the real stuff.

Juana Giaimo: “Limbo” immediately reminds me of bands from the indie post-punk revival that didn’t survive very well past those years — We Are Scientists, Blood Red Shoes, The Bravery come to mind. Those were the first bands I listened to as a teenager, and at the time, I thought they were unique. I listened to them not because I felt emotionally attached, but because of the sounds they created. The combination of raw guitars with polished synths of “Limbo” has some of the excitement I heard in those songs but never becomes more than playful but superficial experimentation.

Alfred Soto: Nostalgia has to settle on fresher referents. The faint mirrorball swirl of “Limbo” has Fisherspooner or, I dunno, The Darkness in mind and enough fuzz to keep the rock pedants in 2004 appeased. Maybe it’ll work in 2021.

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