Red Queen Contest, straight outta Navan, once released music as The Dolldrums. They have said though that this self-titled album is a move away from the indie rock of that project towards a more alternative rock direction. Luckily for all previous a fans, the change has not been too drastic. The music has been beefed up a bit, and there is a more ambitious atmosphere on the album, but it is unmistakeably the same band. There are shades of plenty of groups on the record, from Blur to Coldplay, but they manage to infuse their influences into the music whilst also maintaining their own sound.
The vocals are shared between Cormac O’Keefe and Paul Clarke on most of the songs here. Far from it leading to a situation of too many cooks spoiling the musical broth, the two singers manage to play off each other very well. They know their way around a hook and, even at points when the music is a little uninspired, there is usually a memorable vocal melody to salvage things.
That is not to underestimate the instrumentalists in the band. In drummer Barry Fitzgerald and bassist Paddy Smyth, they have quite a formidable rhythm section. They aren’t the flashiest players but provide a solid backbone to the songs. Producer Adrian Garry, who has also worked with Bell X1 and Delorentos, does a good job of stitching everything together as well and the songs sound suitably spacious and anthemic. They probably aren’t quite stadium-ready but the soaring nature of the music means they wouldn’t sound out of place in a larger venue.
Now (Before it Gets Old) is the opening track here and one of the more melodic songs on the album. It is a bit of a slow-burner but reaches and epic finale and features some of the best vocal contributions on the album. If a band like Kodaline can make the playlists of daytime radio, it isn’t too far-fetched to assume Red Queen Contest could do something similar if they keep cranking out songs like this.
The best song on the album, however, is undoubtedly Eiderdown. After some slower tracks in the album’s mid-section, it brings some much needed urgency to proceedings. It powers along like something the off the Strokes debut and features a massive chorus that the Kings of Leon would be proud of. It has a bittersweet feel to it as well though, giving it a bit of emotional heft as well.
Back to Your Door shows that the band can tone things down for an acoustic ballad too. The lyrics aren’t the most elegant you will ever hear but they work well enough. Not every song is as positive though. When they lean too heavily on the alt-rock side of things, we get songs like Houdini Hexes which is a bit of a slog.
The closing track Bee Stings shows the potential of the band. It comes across a bit like something from The Bends-era Radiohead. While it’s hard to see Red Queen Contest taking on the kind of experimental left-turns that band pulls with every record, it shows that they know how to bring a bit of diversity to the table. This is a confident debut from the band; it will not be overly surprising if they are a much bigger name by the time their second album drops.