Ruth Ruth – Right About Now

3 out of 5

Label: Flaming Peach Records

Produced by: Chris Kennedy

Ruth Ruth’s Laughing Gallery was the pop punk masterpiece I kept trying, and failing, to turn my friends on to. It seemed to have crossover appeal – a hard-edged, indie vibe that could work on the more rocking types; an irreverent catchiness that could work on the radio types. …And yet, it seemed to work on neither. The Little Death leaned into darker stuff, Are You My Friend? into the light, both sharpening those sides of RR’s sound, with better and weirder lyrics along the way. And evolving that, Ultra V would promote all of this into a sheenier radio-friendly version, but bringing along all the tweaked hooks and snarky songwriting.

And then they were gone. Obviously I wasn’t the only Ruth Ruth fan out there, but it often felt like it; I understood that they stood just to the left or right of accessible for most people, and also weren’t indie enough for the others, but at the same time, it always seemed like they were one of those woulda coulda shoulda bands – just missing the time and place arrangements to nab the spotlight.

Despite all of this personal dedication, I didn’t really have any expectations for their four-years-later return to the band on Right About Now. The liner notes spoke of it in general reunion terms – it feels great / natural to be back in a band! – and the album art is about as generic, dollar-bin as you can get, with similarly mundane sounding song titles. That same quality that burned so bright during the group’s more active years was, admittedly, something that I suspected could burn out, and not necessarily be returned to.

Indeed, Right About Now proves that the group has pop sensibilities ingrained, and their sharp playing chops remain intact, but the slightly off-kilter energy that made them stand out to me had dissipated – occasionally, lyricist Chris Kennedy will deliver a line that recalls some of RR’s more interesting concepts / imagery, but the words otherwise have the sense of being scripted out of need – to match a hook, to have a chorus. Thankfully, those hooks, and Chris’ delivery, are as good and energized as ever – Right is a solid pop-rock album, and the plus side of the relative lyrical shallowness is that the group doesn’t try to do any super-serious slow tracks or ballads: the focus is on trying to remain hooky, and they do a good job of that. Hints of their old originality does rear its head here and there, with a harsher edge poking through the pop on tracks like Electric, and the band rather consistently finds their way to a unique bridge or riff on any given song.

But it’s fleeting – it is, again, very much a reunion thing: falling into a natural rhythm, but needing to play through some standards to get back around to sharper material. This is the album of standards; unfortunately, we didn’t get the sharper-material followup.