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Douglas Martin‘s pee is often cloudy, but never bloody.
With their small but formidable discography being as cacophonous as it was — just two full-lengths, both shortlist nominees for Dirty Shoes Record of the Decade — you’d think Royal Headache would have taken a fiery bow before closing the curtains on the band. A blistering succession of final shows, Maybe an onstage fistfight a la fellow erstwhile Dirty Shoes favorites Women. But only a quiet Facebook announcement adding a year of death on their proverbial tombstone (appropriate, given the forum that is Facebook) was the only sign the Sydney garage-punks’ time had passed.
As tightly structured, well-played, and punishingly catchy as they were, the most distinctive thing about Royal Headache was their lead singer, going by the pseudonym Shogun. His emotive vocals gave the band their soulful edge, the component which made many punk fans think, “What if Motown released a punk 45 in their dying days? What would that shit sound like?” If Royal Headache were the band of suit-wearing punks wielding knives and burning through cigarettes in an alleyway from an imagined-but-never-released film about a beaten-up bar with a velvet curtain and Stax records on the jukebox, Shogun was out in front, chain-smoking and swilling from a flask while bringing the crowd to their feet, or to their knees.
With the dissolution of Royal Headache, Shogun has been afforded the opportunity to shed the visage of punk music (at least partway) and live his second act as an honest-to-god soul singer.
“Hold On Kid,” the A-side of the debut single of his new project — named Shogun and the Sheets, reportedly an allusion to pages and pages of notebook paper scattered around his bedroom — is a good enough song, if still hewing a little close to the legacy of the band’s immediate predecessor. It’s propulsive and grand and features a piano (or a keyboard that sounds like a piano) spitting out classic rock ‘n roll accompaniment. It features Shogun singing loudly, nearly hollering, over music boisterous and rollicking. The track basically sounds like a natural progression for Royal Headache if the band were still intact.
The dirty and scuffed ballad that rolls along the B-side, however? That’s where the money is. “Pissing Blood” sounds like what would play at a way, way, way after-hours party where there is a lone couple slow-dancing and making out, half-full liquor bottles in disarray all over the bar, and probably someone’s dickhead friend in the bathroom doing coke off the sink with some girl he just met. 4am, where most people with good intentions have already shuttled off to bed or are about to hit the morning commute to their factory and construction jobs.
Shogun lets off one of the best strings of vocals he’s ever recorded, singing of having a direction but not seeing the horizon, singing of growing old and finding yourself, singing of being no good but still loving another person like no one else can. There’s a guitar solo worthy of getting your lighters up (or cell phone flashlights, I guess), and Shogun crooning his way to the end, slackening his tie and seemingly exhausted, hoping his plea was enough for whoever his words were intended for, little droplets of red dissipating in the toilet water.