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Music Review: Elect Love by Royal Blue

This is what you get when you mix a superb lyricist, a spirit of collaboration and painful honesty.

I have been listening to Tim Prince’s courageous record for some weeks now, to and from work. As the autumn sun now sits low on the horizon, it’s melancholy is amplified as I drive on autopilot along quiet, misty roads; glancing into dew soaked fields and passing birds fluttering out of hedgerows. It doesn’t get much more English than this, and the same could be said of Elect Love, with its first-person, confessional and introspective songs born from one man and his acoustic guitar. Royal Blue is a collaboration though, between Tim Prince and multi-instrumentalist Clovis Phillips, who helps build the sound around Tim’s tunes with some fantastic guitar, bass, piano and drums; the oyster around the pearl if you will.

Elect Love is a journey, as the lyrics recalls painful, heartfelt stories of love, loss and addiction in all its forms from the past. These aren’t a random collection of anecdotes however. Elect Love is a narrative; not one moving through innocence to experience, but through heartbreak and melancholy and learning to an older sure-footedness, and knowing. These are stories we can all relate to.

Tim Prince of Royal Blue

The opening track sets the tone. ‘I Should Have Known Better’ describes a somewhat seedy late night bar scene and the recounting of the start of a relationship between the protagonist and a beautiful girl with a drug addiction. The description of the scene is fatalistic, almost predatory, and laced with remorse as the lyrics look back to the start of it all.

Love doesn't interest you unless it brings you pain,
and men like me will watch you like vultures watch the lame.

I am reminded of Elvis Costello’s ‘I Want You’, another superb song about a tormented relationship. We know it doesn’t end well here either, starting out all ‘Mills and Boon’ and finishing up ‘shooting up in a bloody chair’. The rhythm of the track manages to feel tense and lazy all at the same time. How is that possible?

Next up, ‘It’s Not You’ is a break up conversation, possibly of the couple in the opening track. Lacking in melancholy, it’s more a blend of mocking lyrics and a touch of musical whimsy; the candid and honest lyrics of the chorus expose the deceit and lies of the ‘other half’s’ reasons for the break up. It’s an interesting and cleverly constructed song.

And so, to track three and this album begins to climb the emotional ladder. If the first two songs were carefully measured, on this one, the singer begins to let it out. ‘All We Ever Did’ is an anguished retrospective howl at a failed relationship where all the partnership managed to do was ‘wrong’. ‘We never stood  a chance with our sick romance’ sings Tim, as beautiful, backing vocals soothe the pain.

Listen to All We Ever Did

Suddenly we are out of the emotional wringer on track four ‘Like Marlyn’, and into a ‘Bacharachesque’ or perhaps ‘James Tayloresque’ song about an irresistible girl who will lead you into danger and then be gone; but listen, and the words are anything but inconsequential. The girl is a Siren and there’s a deception going on. Is this the same girl as in track one? My guess is yes.

‘Panic and Caffeine’ follows. What a good title. The last thing you want in an agitated state is caffeine; a scary feedback loop if ever there was one. This track is angsty, psychotic even; in a coming off drugs, cold turkey kind of way. Howling, careering guitars and a driving beat reinforce the lyrics talking of ‘a train without a driver’ and other metaphors for lack of control. Someone is on the edge, but an (ex) lover is standing by to help ‘to catch you if you fall’.

Then comes Euphoria, a blessed comedown after the preceding track. There are hints of psychedelia a la Lennon & McCartney in the lyrics. It’s a lulling, beckoning song about something female and seductive. It could be about someone’s lover, mother or narcotic of choice. These fantastic lines suggest the latter to me.

And a million stars are falling there,
shimmering in Amethyst rain.
And the flow of time is vapour where,
angels sweep like music through my veins.

At the end of the track, we are calmed by a beautiful female voice simply singing ‘ah’ in a lullaby way. A flatline note appears and then fades to nothing. The drum beat slows and stops. Brilliant. Something has gone and it isn’t coming back.

‘Every Addict is the Same’ is the track where any lyrical ambiguity is cast aside. It plumbs depths of utter misery. The weight of this track is so heavy it is in danger of collapsing in on itself. Spanish style acoustic guitar gives the track heart and pulls it away from its own event horizon. Beautiful stuff. The words are both brutal and loving.

The colours of love that once used to dazzle me,
Have faded and fallen like autumn leaves,
And these rooms echo with all your broken promises,
There's nobody left now to deceive.

You can feel the dilemma of the man who loves the woman he is leaving, but has truly done all he can for them. He is spent.

The next track, ‘Parasite’, feels like the next chapter after after ‘Every Addict is the Same’. It rocks. It is angry. It starts with an exchange between voice and band. Tim sings a line of lyrics and electric guitar and drums answer with a ‘bang! bang! It becomes clear that the woman in the previous track won’t let go of the shirt tails. This song is metaphorically kicking her off. The singer shouts ‘It’s not my fault you’re that way, Or my job to fix you. You can hear the emotion in Tim’s voice when he spits out the killer line ‘nothing sucks like a parasite!’ This is unequivocally goodbye and good riddance.

And so, to what I believe is the finest track on this great record. ‘Long Time Gone’ is a magnificent song wrought from pain, experience and learning; but told from a perspective of peace and acceptance. It is the yin to ‘Every Addict is the Same’s’ yang. It is light to darkness. The words have room to breathe. The music wraps around the words and embraces them. There’s a sense of calm. What a high water mark! The chorus comes like an emotional release as Tim sings calmly and quietly ‘It’s been a long time coming, but you’re a long time gone’. The closing words are triumphant and heart warming and give us the closure we hoped for.

'and your smile doesn't taunt me now, when I'm alone,
and my heart isn't heavy as quarried stone.'

I have played this song over and over again, and it has made me cry on numerous occasions.

That’s it. Great record. You can see that Tim Prince dug deep within and poured his heart and soul into this record. Collaborator Clovis Phillips is more than a perfect foil for Tim’s stories and confessionals. Royal Blue is a fruitful and exciting musical partnership. Sting once said in an acceptance speech for some gong he had received that music is its own reward. I have to agree, but I can’t help feeling this record deserves wider recognition. Why not see if you agree and check it out?

Listen to Elect Love by Royal Blue

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