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Outside Royalty
All Nights Out Ben Graham , December 2nd, 2009 06:52

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Glam Rock made this country great. Just ask Outside Royalty: formed in Pittsburgh and inspired by anglophile singer-songwriter Adam Billing's childhood obsession with early T. Rex and David Bowie, in 2006 they left their hometown in search of the source. Moving to London, they found only grubby city streets teaming with identikit, underachieving indie bands, all dressing down and nodding off. Undaunted, they recruited two new members and began gigging around the dumps and dives of the metropolis, cutting tirelessly against the grain and developing an elegant, spacious sound that showcased Adam's rich baritone vocals and acoustic guitar, gloriously accented by Rachel Wu's violin, Frederique Legrand's cello and Eizan Miyamoto's synthesiser.

Three years later, much of the glam has been worn away, leaving only the arch aesthetic essence; The poised darkness is on this self-produced debut is inherited as much from The Velvet Underground as Roxy Music. It's the sound of widescreen cinematic ambition restrained by a Box Brownie budget, and all the better for it. Opener 'Ohio' has an open-road, anthemic feel that together with its pounding synth-bass groove is not unlike the sound The Killers have translated into global success. But it's to Outside Royalty's credit- aesthetically if not commercially- that they're capable of exercising restraint and, well, taste, rather than sharing the Las Vegas bands' grating, over-weaning pomp. Where The Killers seem determined to make the indie-rock Bat Out of Hell, Hunky Dory remains Outside Royalty's touchstone.

At this point, however, it has to be noted that the band Outside Royalty most resemble on All Nights Out is, without question, Pulp. This could be a problem: it's not that the band are slavish imitators, just that Adam naturally sounds uncannily like a mid-Atlantic Jarvis Cocker, and coupled with their default setting of violin and retro-synth-led disco anthems, it makes it hard to get past invidious comparisons to Sheffield's finest. And when 'Falling' – a cracking tune about finding love on a crashing aeroplane- begins, half-spoken: “it was coffee for her, and tea for me, I'm an American man, she teaches chemistry, all of her life, in Lancashire…” it just needs a muttered 'alright' and a hip-wiggling bum thrust at the end of the line to complete the illusion.

Generally however, Adam's lyrics are far more stream-of-consciousness than Jarvis's dryly humorous storytelling, and latest single, 'Lightbulb (Turning Off)' has perhaps more in common with The Strokes, while 'The Strangest Thing I've Ever Seen' is like a ragged, end-of-tether Arcade Fire. More tellingly, the glam-skiffle of 'My Constitution' and the tense, tender ballad 'Three, Two of One' recall cult pre-punk art rock combo The Doctors of Madness, the synths and strings on the latter blending in sinister, alien fashion rather than garnishing the tune in obvious romantic fripperies. Possibly the finest moment though is the magnificent 'Voice beneath the Rubble,' in which haunting backing vocals hum darkly around tribal, Pete De Freitas-like drumming, gloomy and under-stated before the whole song explodes in a raging open run towards the light.

When Adam Billing first encountered Bolan and Bowie, he had no idea what they looked like. His perception of their early music was unencumbered by images of feather boas, silver platform boots, lipstick and mascara. For him, they were strange, mysterious songs of substance and suggestion, rooted in strong acoustic melodies and surreal, psychosexual words. Outside Royalty have built on this tradition, creating a darkly sensual landscape all their own: it's Glam, but not as we know it. Come on in.

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