Band of Skulls return with their fifth studio album, bringing with them a fresh mindset and newly upbeat style. Anthemic vocals and pop production join the familiar riffs and dual lead vocals, but how well do these elements mingle?
When Band of Skulls released Cool Your Battles as a single earlier this year, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. The track was a little basic compared to what I’d grown used to from this band. It was too much of a stadium rock track, losing the blues edge and minimal sound that made Band of Skulls’ first two albums in particular unique.
While Love Is All You Love is very much of a continuation of the steady journey to pop-rock that they’ve taken for the last few albums, there are flashes of Band of Skulls’ older style here too, and thankfully, some of the album is a little more adventurous than Cool Your Battles.
There’s also experimentation here; from the get-go, Love Is All You Love sounds different to its predecessors. The album opens with the industrial metal-influenced Carnivorous in which the jarring Eastern-style guitar drone and menacing repetition of ‘-ivorous, -ivorous, -ivorous’ in the chorus are decidedly unfamiliar. It’s a strange start to the album but I appreciate the intention here; it’s not a typical Band of Skulls hip-shaker or foot-stomper and its doggedness and intensity is unique on this record.
Other instances of the band trying something new include Sound of You, a mellow and moody track which features bassist Emma Richardson on lead vocals. Because the band put a commendable amount of work into balancing the male/female vocals in all of their tracks, it’s never a surprise when the female lead comes in, where often it would be slightly jarring to switch to a completely new vocal timbre part-way through an album. The stripped back instrumentation helps Richardson’s voice steal the track, and Sound of You contains more intimacy than the rest of the album combined. They’ve done tracks like this before but never as successfully.
There’s some of Band of Skulls’ garage blues in the form of That’s My Trouble, with its stuttering, broken-up choruses and foot-stomping attitude. There’s even a Jack White-esque guitar tone for the solo. The album’s title track also carries familiar elements. With riff-led RnB grooves and Black Keys-style swagger, it would be right at home on predecessor, By Default. Completing a hat-trick of throwback tunes is Not The Kind of Nothing I Know, which is ‘Stones in the verse and ‘Zeppelin in the chorus. Full of catchy riffs and easy nonchalance, this is pure garage blues. The riff in the breakdown sounds too similar to Blood from their debut album to not be an homage. It’s even in the same key. I love that kind of stuff.
That’s where the claws are retracted though; track four is the last evidence of hard rock on Love Is All You Love because the rest of the album, introduced by Cool Your Battles and with the exception of following track Sound of You, adopts the lighter, more anthemic style. The album was produced by Richard X, who also has Liberty X, Rachel Stevens and Sugababes on his CV. The production matches the new style well, making the drums and the bass pump each track methodically. Sadly though, this disregards some of the band’s typical dynamism, making each song unavoidably chorus-based and quite one-dimensional.
Cool Your Battles itself does actually work as the midway point in the album and while it isn’t particularly exciting or inventive, it does succeed in pacifying the tone for the rest of the album. Thanks a Lot, which sounds a bit like a slower version of All These Things That I’ve Done by the Killers without the catchy ending, is a steady track but it doesn’t seem to have a particular climax, a factor governed by the latter-half of the album’s easy-going rock style. We’re Alive is probably the highlight of these tracks, with verses that build well into the chorus. Again, however, it lacks a little edge. Speed of Light suffers the same fate; it is just a little too slow and the chorus doesn’t have the crescendo that the rest of the track requires it to. Album-closer Gold brings back the swagger that’s missing from the previous three tracks, with catchy verses and a deep, thumping bassline, but equally struggles to build to a meaningful conclusion. The pre-choruses throw the flow of the track off and it struggles to spotlight a chorus as a result.
Love Is All You Love might work better cut into two separate EPs. The first portion is grittier than the second and works better because the tracks are more suited to the band’s style. However, Band of Skulls’ disposition to evolving their music style is understandable, and while the slower, more basic rock style is a mask that doesn’t fit them as seamlessly, they still manage to deliver an easy and satisfying listen with some nice touches and standout moments. Love Is All You Love isn’t as good as their previous four albums, but it’s still pretty decent.