Paving the Way - Rocket Kings - Album Review

Paving the Way - Rocket Kings - Album Review

When a band defines themselves as Ukulele-pop (or Ukepop), they have my attention. Any morbid curiosity or concern of how this would sound was settled when we heard their Christmas song “Christmas without you” [WARNING, this song will be stuck in your head all year round]. Since then we’ve spun a single from their latest studio album - both episodes featuring Rocket kings available here

The single piqued my curiosity as to how a band can create a compelling and engaging album with such a pleasant, but fairly inoffensive and neutral sound. The main question left to answer, of which Rocket Kings answer in a fascinating manner is; how do you balance creating a unique, identifying sound while offering enough variety to keep an album interesting?

Album Review

The happy, inoffensive sound that I’ve known as a staple of Rocket Kings is very much the case for the opening track - and Fading Star is a great stand-alone song that made me fearful that “10x this” would be an able plagued with listeners fatigue. However, the second track immediately alludes to how the band maintain your attention, and despite the limiting and restricting side that comes with being a Ukulele-equipped+focused band make sure there’s a tonal variety using different effects and varying levels of distortion.

She’s going to Mars’, the second track on ‘Paving the Way’, instantly felt like a proper Bowie tribute. The song is written and structured similar to his better-known works, with vocals almost seeming to replicate. Typically, anytime I can hear a “voice” sneaking into somebody’s singing that isn’t their own I dislike it. However, with ‘She’s going to Mars’, it seemed to be a true homage, and again added a layer of variety to the album. Across this album, Rocket Kings do a brilliant job of making sure each section of a song changes enough to avoid predictability-induced boredom. There’s a couple of tracks that are exceptions to that generalisation, but She’s Going to Mars ends with chorus repetition that doesn’t get old, instead it creates a safe space for the listener to sing-along on the first listen!

The next track, ‘So Damn Tired’, is the introduction to Rocket Kings’ ace up the sleeve. Again, variation of vocal tone is a key tool utilised to keep the album compelling on the initial listen, with Jess Tuthill taking the lead on this track, and without disrespecting the primary vocalist (Bex Crossland), it’s a noticeably impressive performance. From a song-writing aspect, the first line of the song feels incredibly Keane, with the start of every verse almost note-for-note following their flagship song ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. It’s a curious decision, as the rest of the song feels unique, but anybody familiar with the Keane track will spend their time listening for further similarities. After listening to She’s Going to Mars, it made me question if this was an intentional nod to Keane, or a case of not being massively familiar with their work and just coming to a similar phrase - however, the rest of the song is brilliant. The vocals show a maturity in sound, with well written lyrics to support. The shuffle of the bands vocal responsibilities works perfectly, having fantastic synergy in the singing and harmonies.

The next two songs boast their ability to create a unique soundscape, with ‘Yellow Bird of Fortune’ adding a trumpet and a bass-led breakdown, ensuring that even four songs in you’re getting rewarded with something new and refreshing. ‘Far from Home’, is a bloody catchy chorus. There’s something about the simplicity and repetition that makes you want to belt this out. Now, with complex lyrics for the verse there’s plenty changing, however I do feel that a dramatic change beyond additional vocal harmonies would have been welcomed in this track. The drum breakdown into each chorus adds a predictability that I would have enjoyed seeing the band deviate from.

The rest of the tracks on this album are possibly where the similarities from track to track lessen. They get into a rhythm, and have a handful of songs back to back that are happy-go-lucky and inoffensive. There’s little risk in the sound of ‘We’ve Really Got A Good Thing Going’ or Dream Undream (another strong Bowie-influenced track!), however before there’s too much predictability or fatigue, you get to Say it with a Smile. Again, Jess Tuthill takes the lead for a second time, and once again I was taken back by the strength of the lead vocals. The tone is well established in her performance, with both a confidence and a strong production style helping the vocals sit with comfort where they belong on the mix.


With a very real risk of being overly repetitive or being hindered by the uniqueness of their sound, Rocket Kings very masterfully have created an album that is compelling and engaging throughout. They lean on various inspirations, shuffle their vocal responsibilities and create complex sounds with their Ukulele-clad lineup. To dig deep and be hyper-analytical, there’s definitely moments where the lyrics can feel slightly clunky or almost elementary in writing (I think The Time of Our Lives examples this well, with lines not quite fitting or feeling very on the nose). 

The variety of singing, as well as multiple contributors in the song-writing, allows for a fresh listening experience throughout the album and has some songs that will get absolutely buried deep in your head. At moments, there are tracks that feel behind the others from a maturity-in-composition perspective, however any album that can vary in influences from Keane, or singing that feels similar to mid-noughties pop groups like ‘Alphabeat’, to straight-up creating Bowie B-sides have my respect! The album ‘Paving the Way’ by Rocket Kings is not only an enjoyable listen, but offers aspiring musicians multiple important lessons on song & record construction. For that reason alone, I believe it’s a must listen for anybody interested in producing longer-format records. 

More like this

Leave a comment