Ruth Ruth – Are You My Friend?

4 out of 5

Label: RCA Records

Producer: Chris Shaw

While AYMF? bore the hallmarks of a sell-out album – a seeming ‘logo’ introduced for the band, a new shiny label, picture of the group making camera smiles on the back, and musically, the drop in distortion in favor of more pop and ballads – Ruth Ruth was never going to breakthrough the grunge scene or the pop-rock scene, as songster Chris Kennedy’s lyrics and the group’s song structure still maintained the dash of left-field that made them stand out from punk-pop in the first place.  The album seems to initially lack the edge of Laughing Gallery – which had that sick, muscular Ted Niceley produced riff to open things with Uninvited – or to lack the sorta down and dirty feel of The Little Death EP, as it opens with instant rocker ‘Condition’ (catchy guitar hook, quiet-to-loud chorus-verse), even tempering the subject matter to be recognizable to angry kids, but we’re already a tough sell because Kennedy’s voice is / was uniquely breathy and pretty – an odd match for their style of rock.  It starts to make a bit more sense on the softer ‘Cadillac, Michigan’ and ‘HER from Planet Fur,’ but then we’re seeing that slightly creepy, slightly off lyrical content – the general gist of which – the angst, the discomfort – is recognizable, but Kennedy loves reaching for images which are just so slightly disconcerting or embarrassing.  They don’t make for catchy choruses (even though those are there), because a line will have you wondering what, exactly, you’re copping to by singin’ aloud.  And the album bounces around in this fashion for 12 songs, before perverting the normal “end it with a sofite” by tearing through “Brainiac,” which, fittingly, is from the Deep Elm era, but is still a perfect topper to the album.

There are some cringe-worthy moments, where the pop just gets too sweet or Kennedy steps a little too outside the lines for a lyric, but as Cave In did with Antenna, delivering a more palatable – but in now way distilled – version of their band – Are You My Friend? is fully recognizable as Ruth Ruth once you get over some of the exterior shocks.  Yes, it’s a tad unplugged and the singing is a bit more croony, but all the hooks are there, all the sexually-tinged imagery is there, but the extra guitarist and Christian Nakata’s lighter playing style (vs. original drummer Dave Snyder) aren’t just window dressing – the band takes advantage of their studio to wring out some pretty interesting pop concoctions.  A solid record.

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