Compare and contrast. These are the inevitable actions of a seasoned music fan.
What influences from the past sixty years of pop can be heard on the debut of Band A? How well does the second album by Band B stack up against their first? Is the new direction of Band C a terrible betrayal of their back catalogue or an exciting departure?
Enter, stage left, Theatre Royal.
Last year’s …And Then It Fell Out Of My Head saw the band in a Schrödinger state of mind: both in self assured form and…not. They may have sounded on top of their game (you won’t have heard a tighter record from them before – and that’s no poor reflection on previous outings by any stretch of the imagination), but the lyrics betrayed the usual array of anxiety and angst that has come to define much of what the band is about.
The new Double-A single of ‘All Fall Forward’/’Better Say Goodbye’ marks a thematic departure for Theatre Royal. Self-doubt and introspection are replaced with something angrier – more urgent.
Both songs point accusatory fingers away from the self and towards some unnamed malefactor: “What’s your mood today?/Who do you hate now?/So many targets for your vicious tongue” runs a triplet lines from ‘All Fall Forward’. Meanwhile the opening couplet of ‘Better Say Goodbye’ is laden with weariness: “You can say what you like/your words don’t hold no weight with me”.
But perhaps it’s a little too easy – a little too convenient – to paint these songs’ protagonists/antagonists as a bad guy, pure and simple. In art, as in life, things are never that simple. And so it is with this brace of Theatre Royal tunes; just below the surface of both, you’ll find characters who are just as brow beaten and world weary as the narrator.
It turns out the anti-hero of ‘All Fall Forward’ is burnt out: “work so hard – just enough/you don’t know just when to stop” while the star of the ‘Better Say Goodbye’ story is stuck in an enormous rut. He has become a walking contradiction: someone who will “never change – that much we know” but, at the same time, has “become the thing you swore you never wished to be”. The situation has become so bad, so infectious, so bitter, that the only option now is a clean break.
The music matches the lyrics’ mood brilliantly. ‘All Fall Forward’ is a rising storm of a song, opening, almost sedately, with meandering keyboards, but fast developing into a rising storm. As with many of this band’s songs, there is something anthemic about it, requiring all who hear it to sing along, enveloped in the frantic, relentless energy.
‘Better Say Goodbye’ provides more of the same: a perfect piece of guitar pop, filled with typically retro backing vocals and underpinned by the Jon Gibbs’ focussed frenzy on the drums and Brendan Esmonde’s brisk counter melody on the bass. Over the top Robbie Wilkinson’s guitar jangles along while Ollie Burgess lets rip on the vocals.
The assured march of Theatre Royal is continuing on apace. These four lads from the Medway have crammed an album’s worth of energy and drive onto just a couple of songs. All of which makes this double A sider a fantastic introduction for the uninitiated. Go forth and get your copy now.
Find out more about Theatre Royal and plenty of other Medway bands in Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway (Cultured Llama).