Ruby Red, The Love Language’s first album in three years, opens with a determined, focused beat. It's the first sign that the extra time during the recording process has led to a new ambitious — and ultimately flawed — sound.
“Calm Down,” the opening track, feels relentless as the beat drives through a 2 minute guitar and drum jam. Despite a nice build, it feels tacked on. There’s something that feels cold and mechanical about it.
This feeling permeates many of the additions to the band’s sound. The vocals are distant instead of big and bold. Strings, horns, and glockenspiel feel perfunctory. The shift in focus from melody and vocals towards composition and instruments makes The Love Language feel less like a band wanting listeners to join them in song and more like a band hoping people will sit back and appreciate them from afar.
The harder edge of the first five tracks — climaxing with the grinding “First Shot” — softens on the back half of Ruby Red. “For Izzy” is the one ballad on the album. It’s a style that the band pulls off with ease to produce one of the more enjoyable melodic lines on the album.
While Ruby Red fails to be as fun or memorable as Libraries or The Love Language, the album finishes on a promising note. The gluttony of extra instruments works with the vocals to propel “Pilot Light” above the rest of the album and providing hope that the band will come out of this transition for the better.
Ruby Red is out now on Merge Records. The Cat's Cradle will host an album release party on July 26. Tickets are $12 in advance.