Single Mothers Shapeshift Once Again on 'Roy'

BY Oliver CrookPublished Apr 25, 2023

Everybody has that friend you speak to once a year: You were inseparable once, but then you drifted and now only keep contact through the annual check-ins that, rare as they are, make your day. Since their 2014 debut, Negative Qualities, Single Mothers (now known by some as SM Worldwide) have felt like that semi-mysterious friend, so personal is the writing style and emotive the delivery. 

Single Mothers, whose lone permanent member is Drew Thomson, have been giving fans these missives for nearly a decade. From their early explosive hardcore to last years' Everything You Need, Thomson has always used his art as a diaristic alternative to therapy. Roy, their latest offering, is Thomson's latest long-overdue DM. 

Coming alongside threats that it'll be the last Single Mothers album, Roy presents a perspective unimaginable on previous albums. As Thomson hit his 30s, got a steady job and some semblance of a home life, the music has calmed down with him. There's still the sense that it could explode at any moment — and it occasionally does — but also the suggestion that the manic soul-searching that once dominated his life has returned some tangible answers in Thomson's third decade. It's still raucous punk, but the urgency has gone; it's a style that really suits them. 

While previous albums offered a feeling of desperation at this working out, Roy's opener "Head Shrunk" offers the opposite: "It's okay to think that the wildest days you ever lived are behind you now / When you made a lifetime of mistakes just trying to please a crowd / Yeah I believe that I can leave it / I believe that I could leave now."

Across Single Mothers' five albums, Thomson's never shied away from opening himself up and barking out whatever blood falls on the page, regardless of whether it has an answer or not. Like the mental wandering of most lost people, it means the frontman has tackled poverty, religion, struggling relationships and everything in between, never afraid to be wrong or even ignorant. It's a brave approach that usually yields superb results. Roy is no exception, a deep dive into the emotional stasis of lockdown mirrored with the fear of stagnation that can accompany settling down.

Single Mothers' great talent has long been the way they convey real life struggles both verbally and sonically. The manic, "this has to work" energy of Negative Qualities and 2017's Our Pleasure lead into the more melodic, still confused chaos of 2018's Through A Wall before the band's biggest switch-up yet — last year's Everything You Need, which placed inner-peace centre stage. The lyrics were less shouted and the guitars traded in their red line distortion for purpose-driven melody, a sign of what was to come on Roy

Despite being written during a week in the height of isolation, Roy never feels rushed. Rather, it's the band's slowest, most ponderous record yet — Thomson's delivery is more controlled and precise than we've previously heard, his words more spoken than yelled. Meanwhile the music, which has always represented Thomson's inner turmoil, is dialed way back. Tracks like "Sad Dumb Game" are the epitome of this newfound calm, showcasing Thomson's feelings of working-class futility without ever blowing his lid. While both styles suit Thomson and the band, Roy feels exactly like what Single Mothers should be making at this point in their lives and career. Roy is an extremely catchy punk album that marks a significant evolution. 

If this is to be the last Single Mothers album, Thomson is leaving us in a much healthier spot than when we met him. His discography speaks of constant growth, but rare is the artist who can make the pains of growing up sound so damn good.
(Dine Alone Records)

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