This may be the debut album from London-based Australian electro pop duo Monarchy, but already it feels like they’ve been around for some time. Signed to Mercury, things were looking peachy for their debut album release in the middle of last year, only for the rug to be pulled from under their feet, the record company deciding to let them go at a remarkably early stage.
That may explain why the first record has some deep running emotional substance, as if it’s already been through the ‘forming’ and ‘norming’ stage of band development, moving straight in to the ‘storming’. There are some vulnerable lyrics and straight faces here, the band laying their hearts on the table with some unusually emotive synth pop.
The feeling is that the duo, Ra and Andrew, have regrouped, flicked a couple of fingers at their former label, and come back stronger. They still like to keep their faces hidden, mind, which is one of their core values – a statement on information overload. It certainly gives them an intrigue that makes the listener pay more attention to their lyrics.
It is immediately apparent they are accomplished songwriters, and it is a daring move for them to start off with what sounds like an album closer. “I know she loves me” is the refrain of Black, The Colour Of My Heart, but the tone of singer Ra is much less certain, the harmonies yearning rather than safe. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, the songs often set at a slow disco tempo with catchy choruses and heartfelt verses.
There are more affirmative moments musically, but even these are often at odds with their lyrics. Love Get Out Of My Way is the exception – strong, bullish and catchy, it’s peak time dance fodder. But Maybe I’m Crazy, shimmering into view before shifting up a level to its chorus, proclaims “I’d rather be crazy than share you with someone else”. You Don’t Want To Dance With Me also packs a punch, but at its heart is another question, this time “how do I get you to feel what I feel for you?”
With these tensions in play there is plenty to keep the listener hooked, but for some reason the record doesn’t fully take off. This is difficult to fully explain, but the productions are too calculated, the arrangements cleverly worked out but rigid. The mix of influences may be healthy – a blend of Daft Punk and 1980s electro pop that benefits from Ra’s recognisable voice – but the backing, while often promising the glam of Scissor Sisters, ultimately runs closer to the sheen of Hurts.
The suspicion persists, then, that because these songs have been around for a while, the band almost need to get them out of the way, and in doing so exorcise the ghosts of their recent uncertainty. You sense that when they have done that, the second album could well be something to behold. Let’s hope it’s soon.