In an ink-splodged, hand-written fax, Joe Strummer once wrote of Bruce Springsteen – “Bruce is great because he’ll never lay down and be conquered by his problems, he’s always ready to bust out the shack and hit the track. His music is great because on a dark and rainy morning in England, just when you need some spirit and some proof that the big wide world exists the DJ puts on Racing in the Street and life seems worth living again… Life seems to be in cinemascope again.”
Blacklist Royals’ saving grace is that they conjure up that same ‘carpe diem’ spirit – and for a good reason. Drummer Rob Rufus was diagnosed with cancer at just 17-years-old and underwent relentless rounds of treatment to cure him. Finally healthy in his mid-20s, he moved to Nashville with twin brother Nat (vocals, guitar), recruited guitarist Brad Blanco and bass player Dirk Matthews, independently released debut Semper Liberi (2010) and generally poured everything into the band.
Relentless touring with the likes of Less Than Jake, Pennywise and NOFX and a spot on The Warped Tour honed their punk rock credentials, but pay little credence to the leather jackets, Ramones t-shirts and armfuls of tattoos – second album Die Young With Me is a glorious slice of blazing, American guitar pop. Stealing from The Killers, Gaslight Anthem, King of Leon and of course ‘The Boss’, it’s a triumphant, heart-on-sleeve, fist pumping collection blue collar, mid-west anthems that drives through the heartache and trauma with a steely positivity.
It’s the first time the brothers have openly addressed Rob’s illness on record, and it could easily have become an Oprah Winfrey Show of self-pitying, torch song sentimentality. Instead tracks such as Righteous Child, The Common Things and Hearts on Fire are rip-roaring stadium fillers, full of humble honesty and towering, shoutalong chorus’s. Twenty Six and Young is a more wistful, doomed lullaby to a girlfriend that passed away and the Charles Bukowski-referencing Last Days of the Suicide Kid gets a little melancholy, but album closer Take It: Leave It turns Nat’s growls and snarls into an epic, stomping, vein-bursting finale.
There’s nothing particularly new or earthshattering here, just plenty to like. They’re not a band that will ever appear on an NME cool list, be papped guzzling fairydust from a supermodel’s navel or enchant the critics with a departure album of Tibetan folk songs. But who really needs that crap anyway? Their three-chord rock’n’roll lays it on the line with heartfelt candour and leaves you thrashing along, beating your chest and walking a little taller. And as Strummer also says in that fax – “If you don’t agree with that then you’re a pretentious Martian from Venus”.