The Bombay Royale Takes Classic Bollywood Psychedelia to the Next Level
The heart of what the Bombay Royale plays on their new album You Me Bullets Love is surf music. But over the driving drums and ominously twanging guitars, the eleven-piece band from Melbourne, Australia has dramatic blasts of brass, lush woodwinds and strings, sitar, tabla and all sorts of vintage keyboards. Their songs are mostly original material inspired by the classic psychedelic sounds of 1960s Bollywood, along with a couple of vintage covers from that era. Some of this is such a vivid homage that it’s almost satirical how this band gets that sound down so cold; when they’re not romping through one chase scene after another, they’re slinking along on a psychedelic disco boudoir groove that appropriates American tropes from the 70s like woozy bass synth, maybe an Omnichord, an Arp or whatever the cheap pre-Casio keyboard du jour happened to be in India circa 1980. This isn’t a subtle record by a long shot but it’s an awful lot of fun.
James Bond organ and ominous low brass kick off the Henry Mancini-esque opening track, Monkey Fight Snake, which picks up steam with Bob Knob’s wicked hollowbody bass pulse, managing to boom yet also cut through like a scimitar. As with most of the tracks here, the guy/girl vocals of Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh follow a predictable Bollywood dichotomy, debonair baritone smoothness versus coy, chirpy high soprano – Singh has a truly stratospheric range and really gets to air it out here. The title track, a prime example of the two pairing off, takes a raga melody, surfs it up and finallly sends it flying out on a lush bed of strings. The first of the covers, Jaan Pehechan Ho (from the 1965 film Gumnaam) maintains the Vampyros Lesbos/Electric Prunes-via-India vibe with Matt Vehl’s noir organ and Tom Martin’s reverb guitar; by contrast, the second, Sote Sote Adhi Raat works a suspensefully nocturnal disco vibe with a series of dubious synth settings that evoke vintage video games more than they do any instrument that was ever used in rock music.
From there the band takes their own stab at Hindi disco before splashing back into the surf with the cryptically titled Bobbywood, a somewhat more stripped-down arrangement (somewhat being a relative word here) with chromatic organ, punchy brass, a delicious and all-too-brief organ-and-sitar break and a very satisfying, darkly lush outro. Mahindra Death Ride turns out not to be horror surf but instead a sort of Indian take on go-go music with some lurid spy-movie guitar welded on. Oh Sajna – one of several co-writes by saxophonist/bandleader Andy Williamson – is a bracingly minor-key, anthemic surf-pop song, while Dacoit’s Choice offers a look at what P-Funk might have sounded like had they been Indian. The album winds up with Phone Baje Ne, slowly coalescing into hypnotic reggae lit up by a sweet trumpet solo over a catchy bass hook.
Is this campy? From an English-speaking perspective, not having any idea of what the Hindi or Bengali lyrics might mean, at least a little. Kitschy? Not really – the music has too much of an underlying unease and sometimes downright menace. Other than the obvious fans of old Bollywood spy movies, who is the audience for this? Anyone who’s into surf music, or the wooziest side of 60s psychedelia, or current-day American psychedelic revivalists like Dengue Fever or Chicha Libre, who’ve resurrected esoteric styles that originated in far-flung places like Cambodia or Peru. Isn’t it funny how so often cross-pollination often improves on the original sound? In a nutshell, that’s the Bombay Royale. Lucky fans in Sydney can see them play a swanky album launch party on June 10 at 7:30 at the Basement, 7 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay, NSW 2000: advance tix are $15.