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The Debut

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saint Bowie - The Royalty (mp3)
Silver Screen - The Royalty (mp3)

Could there be anything more musically daunting for a band than The Debut Album?

A band could be together for five years, but that’s just courting. The debut album is the hotel room after prom night. It’s the moment a band becomes a relationship instead of just going steady. You’re not just holding hands anymore; you’re in bed together. Even more disturbing, the hotel room where you’re shagging is actually a studio set, and cameras are recording every twitch, moan and kinky inclination.

The only good news is that a band knows this going in. They know they’re about to bare themselves to some unknown number of voyeurs (voyears?). “Your deflowering will be televised”: that’s The Debut Album.

So, how do you do it?

Do you show your range, your diversity of talent, or do you show your mastery of a genre? Do you present a concept or a string of separate beads? Do you slow it down for a few songs, churn out some ballad even if you don’t feel it, just because albums gots ta have ballads? Do you set the stage for a second album and conserve something for the marathon career, or do you put everything out there and scream “Carpe Diem!” like this first could be the last?

It ain’t rocket science or calculus. There is no right answer or single path.

There’s a band out of El Paso whose debut arrives Tuesday. Statistically speaking, it’s got a far better chance of disappearing into the discount bin of the last few record stores in the country than of making The Next Adele.

The Royalty cannot be accused of failing to make a kickass Debut Album.

Lovers (available May 8) is sublime pop rock. The band is hailed for its “‘50s/60s sound,” but that description doesn’t particularly excite me, pre-listen. I hear "50s/60s" and think, So??

But I listened anyway. And what I heard was this, whispered under the music: “Rilo Kiley isn’t dead, only different."

Lead singer Nicole Boudreau is less lyrically exhibitionistic than Jenny Lewis, but so is 95% of the planet. The Royalty is a smidgen more coy, more pop. I also get a slight hint of Metric in the music.

Whenever I take the chance to download some of the hundreds of songs and albums that get sent to BOTG, I load them up on the iPod and play them as I’m driving into work. More often than not, I can skip my way through an album, sometimes two, on the 25-minute drive. The stuff is usually “decent,” but it’s not compelling enough to hold my attention.

When I arrived at my office while playing Lovers on the way, I made it to Song 6 before I shut my engine off. And then I hurried into my office so I could listen to the rest of the album on Google Music. Dunno if this album is for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.

If Phil Spector had heard The Royalty back in 2002, maybe he wouldn't be in jail today. Maybe he'd still have hope and a soul. That's how kick-ass it is.

Even cooler, the album is almost stronger played bottom to top, which is damn near unheard of in the modern era of front-loading albums with four or five gems and following it with a bunch of crap. “Saint Bowie” is a glowing ruby of musical delirium, a perfect piece of pop anachronism that spans 40 years in sound and message. The only full-blown ballad, “Won’t Be Long,” gets better with repetition.

No song surpasses the 4-minute mark. The only song of the 12 that fails to keep me enthralled is “Witchcraft,” which lacks... something. An hookless chorus? Too much reverb? Dunno. It just doesn’t quite work.

“I Want You” is their baldest attempt at up-tempo pop, and “Mr. Hyde” is plenty cute and clever.

If music is a boxing match, I’m Glass Joe, and Lovers knocked me out in the first round and continues to kick me while I'm on the ground. They're Hulk, and I'm Loki. (Don't worry; you'll get the reference once you see the movie.)

Dear reader, I don’t know you. I don’t know what you like or don’t. But by God this is one helluva catchy and ear-worthy band, and they’re at least worth a few minutes of your time to find out.

* -- ("Silver Screen" was released prior to Lovers)

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