The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Radkey – ‘Dark Black Makeup’ (Strange Loop Records)

Front cover of 'Dark Black Makeup'

Front cover of ‘Dark Black Makeup’

by Ed Biggs

We’ve been keeping an eye on the brothers Radke for a couple of years now. Going under the sort-of-family-band name of Radkey, their 2013 EPs Cat & Mouse and Devil Fruit were short, sharp blasts of retro garage punk, and their ferocious yet disciplined live act has been seen on the likes of ‘Later… with Jools Holland’. Following extensive touring throughout 2014, the trio began work on their debut album Dark Black Makeup at the end of last year, which they’re at last (after more than two years!) prepared to unleash upon a waiting world more in need of rock ‘n’ roll thrills than ever. With only a couple of caveats, it’s a success story that sees them deliver upon their early promise with thirteen slices of garage rock fun in 40 minutes that makes you want to mosh and mope in equal measure.

Radkey’s success is not just down to the songs – almost all of which show creativity and knowledge – but to Ross Orton’s full-on, physical production that leaps out of the speakers and demands to be listened to. Dee Radke’s theatrical baritone comes across just as effectively as it does live (where he glimpses up at you from behind his curtain of dreadlocks). “Kids these days, they want it all” the teenaged singer intones semi-ironically on the title track opener, which comes across as a combination of American pysch and The Fratellis’ ‘Chelsea Dagger’. The rest of Dark Black Makeup continues very much in the same vein, with the three brothers loading and re-firing their musical cannon with the same ammunition again and again. The onslaught continues with the White Stripes / Black Keys minimal ingredients-maximum sound formula, with ‘Romance Dawn’, ‘Sank’ and ‘Parade It’ being the highlights.

Recent single ‘Le Song’ is enjoyably snotty and sees them do fast-paced thrashing just as well as the slower, moody tracks with evil stares. ‘Song Of Solomon’ sees them hint at generational frustration with Dee groaning “never gonna be a millionaire” alongside more well-worn self-loathing horror punk tropes like “I’m a selfish asshole / I’m the one that’s causing all your stress”. In this respect, Radkey may not be the most original, but this is a debut that promises evolution in the future and they’re much more capable than similar bands with three or four records under their belt. Plus, they’re bloody good fun.

On the downside, over the course of a full-length album, Radkey’s full-on assault can tend to sound rather bludgeoning when it’s not attached to a very strong tune – the grinding guitars of ‘Best Friends’ and ‘Evil Doer’ are really the only things going for them – but at least their sound comes from the same small, dead-end-town ennui as British counterparts like Drenge and musical ancestors Nirvana. The Radke brothers’ home-schooled teenage years makes them authentic punk outsiders, misfits with the confidence to be themselves on stage without it sounding or looking affected, studied or cynical. With Ross Orton’s help, that power has been communicated effectively onto record. Dark Black Makeup deserves to earn Radkey some much-needed mainstream exposure, hopefully with success on the scale of Royal Blood to follow. (7/10)

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