Royal Baths – Better Luck Next Life (Kanine)
By Scott Creney
A friend and I were listening to an early Dream Syndicate show a while back, and I said to him that I wished there was a band like that today — fucked up and noisy. They didn’t even need to write songs. All they had to do was just pummel me with sound and employ a little tension/release. If they lived here in town, I’d go see them every night.
The new Royal Baths album is fantastic. It’s in the grime, the crust and the dirt, of the blues without any of the clichés that come with it. There’s no pentatonic scales being bent within an inch of their life, no walking up and down the same 12-bar staircase over and over. It’s the blues as imagined by the Velvets or JAMC, a slow burning scuzz in the vein of The Gun Club or The Birthday Party.
Jigmae Baer sings in the same slow, laconic drawl of Thurston Moore circa Evol. He’s got a real Caligula vibe going on, a sort of softcore de Sade. Royal Baths create a world where sodomy is a given, where the rugburns and the bitemarks are just part of the scenery. ‘Venus In Furs’ was a book report; this feels more like a diary. The people in these songs live violent, co-dependent lives. When their partner says “hit me”, they do it — maybe reluctantly but they still do it. They emerge from sexual encounters with scratch marks all over their chest and their back. They wear them like a badge of honor. They pity the poor straights and their missionary caresses. Life, they say, is pain. So you’d better learn how to enjoy the hurt.
It’s a tough life to live, but it makes great art when it’s done right. From around the 3:30 mark on, they get it just about perfect.
Better Luck Next Life is the sound of aristocratic decay. It’s spiritual exhaustion, the crumbling of an empire into petty, isolated camps of self-degradation. I read recently that at some shows they just turn up their amps as loud as they can go and turn their set into a wave of feedback. Good. Their audience had probably been talking about how much they loved Whitney Houston.