The Rubens (2012) ★ ★ ★ ★
As far as a rock band’s debut release, a self-titled album has usually been the safe bet (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Stone Roses) but never usually produces anything outstanding to the band’s credit. However, the eponymous release from Menagle 4-piece The Rubens is all at once emotional and musically sentimental yet at the same time intense and theatrical. It is both a haven for rambling blues-rock narrative and single tracks which stand well alone.
For a group which formed a little under two years ago, the sound is particularly cohesive and the proof a professionally produced album (David Kahne – also worked with Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney, Lana Del Rey) is a declaration that a lack of experience does not necessarily mean a lack of quality.
Leading single ‘The Best We Got’ heralds back to retro blues-rock, soaked in soulful arrangements that demonstrate the traditional rock band setup still stands. Sam Margin’s unique raspy but technical vocals make a memorable impression from the start. ‘My Gun’ harnesses the youthful male strength of the band expressed simultaneously through steady percussion, dynamic electric guitar and a dash of Bond-esque drama.
Among the recognised singles, there are new songs, which capture the biting mixture of spite, mourning and nostalgia spawned from heartbreak. ‘The Day You Went Away’ showcases the ambitious yet controlled passion of the group and ‘Never Be The Same’ is almost an updated lyrical Augie March in its swaying dynamic structure and anchored lyrics: “It took something bad, to show me what I had/ It took something sad, to remember who I am.”
The album navigates through a scene of misery, newfound love and tragic relations so it is not exactly an easy listen. Nevertheless, the nostalgic tone is endearing and there is regality to their sound – appearing effortless yet complex in its design, it is exciting to imagine what the band will create in the future.
It’s true that The Rubens are celebrated for their clear-cut influences harking back to the golden days of blues, rock and soul but what is really refreshing is the return of skilled guitarists, writers and performers to the electro-dominated scene of Western music.