In trying to find an answer as to why it took so long for Royal Headache to follow up their 2012 debut, I found myself even more confused. There was an announcement from lead singer Shogun that the Aussie soul-punk quartet had broken up but decided to finish their second album and tour it anyway. He has since backtracked on that claim. but his evident self-doubt issues, which led to his voice being buried in the mix on that debut album, have certainly caused the road to be a little bumpy for the band.

The irony, as always, is that Shogun himself is the difference between a very good punk band and the unique pleasures of this particular group. Out this Friday, High represents a small but significant leap for Royal Headache, seeing the boys tightening up, stretching their songwriting scope beyond fist-in-the-air anthems, and polishing the production just enough (their debut was just a little too lo-fi at times) to convey what makes them so interesting. It is also, crucially, a huge amount of fun. The album’s opening line is a wonderful self-putdown. “I used to live in a world of rock and roll and tons of girls / It was my own fantasy,” sings Shogun, backed by a total pogo fest of a backing track.

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The mixture of wit and open-hearted romanticism is present throughout the album, and Shogun’s remarkably versatile voice is the key to the variety of tones. He can shout along, channeling the spirit of The Buzzcocks, on the likes of “Another World,” while evoking the best of Motown on “Need You.” None of which would mean anything if it weren’t for the controlled and invigorating performance from the rhythm section that never allows the music to become monotonous or forgettable over High’s brisk half-hour running time.

The longest song is also the most eye-catching, a complete change of pace called “Wouldn’t You Know” that features a gorgeously rich vocal performance in which Shogun shows off both his range and his depth, with an added vulnerability that’s in keeping with the more generous vibe. Back to back with that track, “Garbage” has an extended intro that drifts closer to post-punk with its snaking bass line, while “Carolina” could at times pass for prime R.E.M. Yet the quartet maintains its singular personality throughout.

Having produced an eye-catching debut, Royal Headache has proven itself far more than a gimmick with High. Even without a more focused critical eye, the album’s immediate pleasures are evident on first listen, and it’s one of the most entertaining rock and roll albums you’ll hear all year. Hopefully rumors of the group’s demise really have been greatly exaggerated by their frontman, but if this does turn out to be a swan song, it would be a damn shame. The world could use more Royal Headache.

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