Monarchy’s profile has been building slowly over the last year. Beavering away quietly in the shadows, remixing others and watching Hurts make step-by-step progress towards the top of the charts, they’ve been taking their time.
As with their Mancunian counterparts, image has played a large part in the build-up to Australian duo Monarchy’s album release (now slated for January 2011). The band emerges dressed smartly and identically, with masks looking fashioned from welders’ protective helmets. The dark, broody stage at impressive new Hoxton venue XOYO is soundtracked by a strange, deep and incomprehensible voiceover before the setlist begins strongly with the enigmatic Black The Colour Of My Heart.
Provided they’re not there to hide some hideous mugs (they’re really not – ed.), the masks’ purpose seems to be to create a cloned, uniform look. With two others forming a four-piece band tonight, each becomes indistinguishable aside from their position on stage and by what they’re doing. The resulting incongruity presents them as more interesting than just watching four unchoreographed, unstyled blokes but leaves the audience disconnected because we can’t see their faces. In any case, the facade falls occasionally when the lead singer Ra can’t help but acknowledge the crowd. He’s probably too nice to keep up the pretence of distance. All this cloak and dagger may prove to have trapped them. Surely they can’t keep this mystery up for their whole career. There will have to be a reveal at some point, and when that happens, will there have been much point to this exercise?
But that all ends up being by-the-by because what Monarchy offer musically is more important than the style it’s presented in. And their songs are all winners. In a short seven-number set, they focus attention on some of the highlights of that forthcoming self-titled album.
Like Hurts, Monarchy are a male duo focussing on the subtleties and intricacies of pop music, rather than the empty melody-by-numbers work being churned out in other quarters. But while Hurts have proved masters of lush, sumptuous and evocative ballads, Monarchy are cornering the market in tightly written upbeat yet emotive pop belters.
The quality of songwriting is so good it becomes hard to figure out which song is most likely to take the boys to super-stardom. It could easily be The Phoenix Alive, or We Were Young or Maybe I’m Crazy. Even the weaker Floating Cars benefits from an extended electro wig-out. And while these songs are simple yet intriguing, it bodes well that there are other tracks on the album that are missed when not played live. A longer set would’ve been great, but that’ll come as their star inevitably ascends.