I'm glad I didn't review this album a few days ago, after my first casual listen of it and Royal Baths in general, or else 'Better Luck Next Life' would have gotten a lot lower of a rating from me. My initial thoughts were, "Yay, yet another band that worships at the alter of The Velvet Underground and Spacemen 3, with nothing really new to say." Granted, those two bands are a couple of my absolute favorites, but I'll listen to them if I'm in the mood for it, or one of the multitude of other bands that have used that formula as a launching point, and with great success (at least in my eyes), such as B.R.M.C., Blue Angel Lounge, The Warlocks, The Black Ryder, early Brian Jonestown Massacre, etc. But after another, more thorough listen, I realized that this isn't just another derivative clone.
This album has a much darker tone than even the aforementioned groups, who all are pretty dark, with twisted lyrics that could almost be seen as cartoonish and over-the-top if the music accompanying them wasn't so oddly seductive, in a strung-out sort of way, recalling The Afghan Whigs at their seediest. The bluesy guitar crunch, combined with the tension-filled, at times even tortured vocals, combine to create an overall vibe that's very intense, almost scary at times, if you give in and just go with it. A perfect example of this is the slow-burning, atmospheric "Someone New," which has a driving, relentless beat, piercing guitar drones, and some pretty demented lyrics dealing with revenge and a pact with the devil. When I first heard this song, I didn't know whether to zone out to a state of pure bliss, or curl up into a fetal position and just try to ride it out until it's over.
There are lighter moments sprinkled throughout, however. Well, light for THIS band, but still with an overriding intensity, which is something that never seems to let up on this album. The George Thorogood-on-acid blues-rock stomp of "Burned," the fuzzed-out, swamp blues of "Faster, Harder," and the dreamy, shoegazy bliss of "Map of Heaven" are all songs that you can just bob your head and drift away to, or rock out to if you so choose, with no real fear of wigging out.
The album as a whole, though, will take you on a scary/deranged trip that is pretty unique, even if their overall sound isn't. I, for one, would rather listen to a band take an old sound in new directions successfully, than a band that attempts to reinvent the wheel, but then fails to realize that there's a reason the wheel is round and not square or triangular. The Rolling Stones put a new twist on the blues and R&B. The Velvet Underground took that to a whole other level. Spacemen 3 took that to yet another level. My Bloody Valentine, the same. The B.J.M. and B.R.M.C. took elements of all those bands, and put their own spin on it. And now with 'Better Luck Next Life,' Royal Baths are putting a new twist on the latter two, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's the history of rock and roll.