City Paper is not for tourists
The guys in U.S. Royalty dress awesomely casual. More awesomely casual than you ever could hope to. They like to talk about it. The fashion blogs have noticed this. So, yeah, this review could quickly devolve into a dissection of why U.S. Royalty is annoying because its members have been more successful as fashion plates than as rockers. But that would be petty. We can all agree that hustle is hustle at this point, no? And to the as-yet-unsigned D.C. band’s credit, Mirrors—its first full-length album—is competent in a completely familiar kind of way. They put the work in, and it shows. But like a lot of albums by hardworking all-American bands, Mirrors has a surplus of sincerity: Even “Monte Carlo,” the coke-kissed Fleetwood Mac-style jam that anchors the first half of the record, avoids anything that seems like a wink. “And when you see the light/Illuminate your eyes/Monte Carlo you’ll keep in your dreams/Along with horses, princes, and kings,” sings frontman John Thornley. That’s some Ween shit, right? Nope: There’s no way it could be remotely intended as silly—not with the way that “way-oh, way-oh” chorus comes in. It’s exuberant, sure, but not necessarily playful. Ditto for the hooks on “Fool to Love (Like I Do)” and “Hollywood Hollows.” The big revelation here is the other Thornley, guitarist Paul. His solos on “Monte Carlo” are snaky and wonderfully cocky; his riffs on “Equestrian” cleverly flirt with Big Country clichés while retaining some originality; and the crunch he brings to “The Desert Won’t Save You” hints at some hidden menace. In this setting, he’s no wildman and he’s no weirdo, but he’s got a beast in him somewhere. It wasn’t really a factor on Midsommar, the band’s far-less-interesting 2009 debut EP. But letting the beast out might become a challenge in the long run; much of Mirrors sounds like it could wend its way into car commercials, and if that’s where U.S. Royalty’s meal-ticket lays, there might not be much incentive to emphasize impulse over design. And the band still seems to be working out just how all-American it needs to sound. “Give Up the Ghost,” with its back-country bullcrap (“Take me to the river/Plunge me to the murky depths/Seal my fate with a kiss from your cold dead lips”), is exactly the kind of thing that an ’80s hair-metal band would’ve done as a lark, to show that it knew where it came from. But U.S. Royalty doesn’t appear to do anything as a lark, so the song feels more forced than anything on the album. And in the end, the question about Mirrors is this: Where’s the conflict? The baggage? The excess? Without that stuff—whether it’s real or perceived, internal or external—rock ‘n’ roll is just work.
U.S. ROYALTY PERFORMS SATURDAY WITH THE RASSLE AND HONEY HOUSE AT ROCK & ROLL HOTEL, 1353 H ST. NW. $10-$12. (202) 388-7625.