The Ruby Suns’ fourth album attempts to play the big, bold and giddy pop card. And well it might; Ryan McPhun and co. have sunk under the radar consistently for the last few year, despite reasonable critical success.
Following their last major release, Fight Softly in 2010, McPhun decamped to Oslo, Norway following the end of a relationship, and it’s in that Nordic city where he found inspiration for Christopher. But fans expecting a very Scandinavian-sounding, icy electro album should probably adjust their expectations, for this album shares more in common with the likes of Yeasayer‘s slightly quirky but joyful approach to music making.
Most of the tunes offered up are satisfactory and pleasing when taken individually, and the melodies of In Real Life and Dramatikk are particularly catchy. There are also interesting instrumental flourishes here and there, such as the carnival-esque percussion of Starlight (a song that is unafraid of a key change or two… or even three) and the adrenaline rush that greets the climax of closer Heart Attack. This all adds to a very dense-sounding LP, but its at its best when McPhun lets his guard down, albeit only slightly. Heartfelt and emotive moments work best in the album’s slower, clearer passages – the rather lush Kingfisher Call Me standing out as the best of the bunch.
Unfortunately, the second half isn’t all that great. Jump In and Boy act equally as paint-by-numbers filler. By this point, it’s clear that the overall aesthetic – one that’s been conjured up before by other artists in a more magical and imaginative way that isn’t quite so crammed – is going to stay the same. Whilst the sound can be seductive, it’s not exactly groundbreaking, and its reluctance to push the envelope is its major downfall.
We can never have too much good, heavy-hitting pop and The Ruby Suns have all the right tools and hooks to do the job. But Christopher comes across as so eager to please that parts of the album lack vim where it’s needed, despite the luxuriant polish that’s been spread across all 10 songs. What should be exhilarating in consequence falls a little short of the mark.