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Royal City | Alone At The Microphone (Rough Trade)
'Alone At The Microphone' is the second album by the Toronto based four-piece that call themselves Royal City, though perhaps Blood, Shit and Tears would be a more apt band name. With titles such as Blood and Faeces and Dank Is The Air With Death And Loathing, this is no run-of-the-mill radio friendly unit shifter. It is highly unlikely that you will hear these songs blaring out the window of the car pulled alongside you at the traffic lights or played at the local discotheque on a Saturday night. At least not round my way. Originally released on Jim Guthrie's Three Gut Records back in 2001, this crooked and volatile collection of barroom stomps and skewed country ballads, now finds itself at home on the seminal Rough Trade label. Whilst it's predecessor 'At Rush Hour The Cars' was pencil thin like a catwalk model and barely broke a whisper, 'Alone...' is a much bolder, fuller figured affair, strutting with new found confidence. And it benefits greatly from this added swagger. The songs remain plagued by lyrics that can make you squirm only here they don't seem so embarrassing. There were times on 'At Rush Hour...' when the songs seemed too intensely private, too personal, so much so that the listener would often feel uncomfortable, like they were prying. A bit like the way heads turn at the sight of a car wreck - you don't want to look and you know you shouldn't, but you are impossibly drawn to it.  This time around, however, they seem more detached and a whole lot darker. This record is riddled with bad luck, maggots and terrible doom. Fiends and demons lurk at every turn. This ain't no picnic. The songs are black and haunted. They still ache like a mouthful of bad teeth, it's just, with the benefit of distance, they are allowed to breathe and on Daisies, it seems, even dance a little, all be it a rather drunken reel, teetering on the verge of collapse. The remarkable thing about 'Alone At The Microphone', however, is that no matter how desperate things get or how dank the air is, there always remains a ray of light, a tiny glimmer of hope. Beneath the crudities and misery, the blood on the floor, the hurl in the hair, there is a hidden charm, like the glint in the eye of a booze-sodden barfly. And it is this charm that allows these songs, despite their sordid nature, to somehow manage to keep their head above the murky waters and the foot tapping.
Welcome to Royal City, folks. Yes, indeed...

Graham Sefton
CWAS #12 - Summer 2003