Bang Bang Romeo’s debut album is a genuinely difficult one for me to review. When I first unexpectedly encountered them back in March 2014 tearing up the stage of The Leadmill mid-way down a card of mixed ability local talent, Bang Bang Romeo were a thrillingly raw four piece that were still exploring the parameters of what they were capable of, but had a spark of promise that few acts have at that level. Maybe it was the fact that they sounded like a cohesive musical unit, maybe it was the fact that there was a sense of controlled power about them, or maybe it was the fact that Anastasia Walker had a voice which could pin the unwary listener to the back wall of the venue.
In the subsequent five and a half years, Bang Bang Romeo have evolved and adapted to a constantly changing musical landscape, honing their stage craft, tweaking the line up, touring incessantly, becoming festival regulars, all the time steadily gathering a loyal fanbase. Things gathered pace when they signed a record deal, work on their debut album started, and since then they released a string of singles, all the time building their reputation as a uniquely potent live act. Then this summer they toured opening for Pink, proving that they could still harness the raw power that I first experienced in the Leadmill all those years ago, and unleash it across the arenas and stadiums of Europe.
Okay, so Bang Bang Romeo are a band going places, so why I am I hesitant to review their debut album? It’s not that I haven’t been anticipating their first album, it’s just, such has been Bang Bang Romeo’s evolution in the years since I first encountered them, that A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not the work of the same raw and grainy band that impressed me so much when I first saw them all those years ago.
But nor should it be.
A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the product of the creative journey that Bang Bang Romeo have been on in recent years, and there’s still the sonic hallmarks which impressed me so much when I first encountered them left as audio watermarks throughout the album. Things like the fact that rather than being beholden to the big attention grabbing riff, guitar player Ross Cameron is all about adding texture and depth to the tune, rather than trying to grab the attention all for himself. Same goes for drummer Richard Gartland, the man that has long held the keys to Bang Bang Romeo’s controlled power, and always knowing exactly when to unleash it for maximum effect. And than there’s Anastasia Walker (aka Stars), whose vocal style continues to sound like a modern Sonja Kristina, but whose confidence as a performer has skyrocketed, to the point where she has already staked her claim as one of the iconic vocalists of modern music. Walker has become a compelling campaigner for LGBT issues, body positivity, and mental health cementing Bang Bang Romeo’s position as a force for good in the music industry.
This is all well and good, but how does A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy sound? Well, they’re not the raw rock and roll that they once were, and this is no bad thing, as the whole “dirty, indie, rock and roll” thing has become and even more tired cliche in recent years. Bang Bang Romeo have been smart enough to sidestep this rather tired trope by directing their not inconsiderable energies into an empowering and life-affirming contemporary pop-rock with big shiny production values. This is a stroke of genius. While the rocking four piece with a soulful vocalist is timeless, in the current music climate, it also has a ceiling in terms of reaching an audience. By embracing modern pop elements from the rock band format, Bang Bang Romeo have forged a sound which stays true to the journey they have been on, but have cast their arms wide to embrace a broad and diverse audience. A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an exercise in inclusivity, and I like it.
Prior to A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s release, Bang Bang Romeo had previewed a number of tracks which now form the backbone of this album. “Cemetry” is a call to arms, and quite rightly kicks off the album following an instrumental introduction. This is quickly followed by “Shame on You”, my personal highlight of the album, and a song which has already become one of Bang Bang Romeo’s signature tunes. Talking of signature tunes, while “Adore Me” is a number of years old now, it remains an utterly potent number, and is quite rightly set at the heart of A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Chemical” is a slow burning smouldering anthem, and while “Natural Born Astronaut” is a couple of years old now, it remains an absolutely belting tune.
While A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an album studded with pop rock anthems, the tunes in between are not exactly filler. “You & I” is a contemporary rocker, “You Scared the Love Out of Me” is a dramatic pop tune. There’s nothing throughout the run time of this album that sounds surplus to requirements. Everything has its place. While that can be the sound of an act hedging their bets, playing it safe and trying to cover all bases, that’s just not the case with Bang Bang Romeo. If they wanted to play it safe, they could have remained that super-talented rock and roll band with the big-voiced singer, gritty dry production and leaning a bit too heavily on Cameron’s superlative guitar work and Gartland’s relentless wallop. Instead they have gone the ambitious route and by embracing a poppier production approach, they have reached out for a bigger audience, and for that alone, they deserve all the credit in the world.
Is A Heartbreaker’s Guide to the Galaxy the album I would have guessed that Bang Bang Romeo would have made back when I first encountered them? No. And it is all the better for it.
Anastasia Walker is on the cusp of becoming one of contemporary music’s most iconic figures, and as a band Bang Bang Romeo have positioned themselves to become a sizeable crossover success in the not too distant future, and they deserve every bit of success that comes their way.