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A review of...
Ruby Red by The Love Language
The Love Language have (or maybe has) travelled quite some distance since 2008’s eponymous debut. Begun as a one-man-band, though perhaps never even intended as that, Stuart McLamb found himself first without his band, and then his girlfriend, whereupon he decamped to his parents’ house and began putting together a number of cathartic homespun demos, never really meant to be heard by the world, but which eventually spawned a self-produced first album. If it sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it shares much in common with Bon Iver’s “For Emma…”, released a year previous, and like that breakthrough album, it’s quite simply brilliant – not remotely similar in sound, mind, in fact they’re as different as two lo-fi singer-songwriter records could probably be, but as a collection just as effective, just as engaging, and arguably just as good.
Second album Libraries introduced more helpers and contributors to the fray, a label (Merge), a band, a studio engineer, and the result was more polished but perhaps less spirited for it.
And so to third release Ruby Red, which expands the list of collaborators yet further, to the point that across three long players the Love Language has gone from solo to collective. Importantly though you wouldn’t necessarily know that was the case – Ruby Red isn’t dislocated in the way such albums can be – but what has changed is that the overall effect is bigger, grander even, the ideas are admirably sized, which is exactly as you’d expect for any band by their third outing. Production values are comparably up, but then you’d never guess that their debut was homemade, it’s just that the fuzzy edge has been smoothed-off and the vocals sit higher in the mix – again a common trait by the time you’ve made enough records to be certain of your worth, ditching the mask of distortion for the honesty and bravery of putting everything out there in the open. So you get tracks like opener “Calm Down” which is an unashamed wig-out of a thing that builds, midway, into a thunderous extended half prog-rock half kraut-rock outro, it’s an adventurous way to kick-off by anyone’s standard, and all-the-more wonderful for it. Then further through the album you began to sense the underlying influence of 80’s American alt-rock – not an indulgence so much as a chance to experiment with an influence which perhaps came through the shared experience of collaborative creation, finding common ground and running with it maybe? – an oft-trod path when you up the numbers involved. There’s spades of energy and ideas all over this record and, above all else, dollops of fun-sized fun, and whilst McLamb is no longer solely responsible, if you’ve ever seen (or watched on youtube) the band that formed around him for touring the first album, you’ll know he’s always very much at the forefront of everything, directing and pulling the strings with buckets of enthusiasm and a beaming grin – you feel that throughout this record that that’s the case, that McLamb’s orchestrating and everyone’s very happy to be a part of the overall result.