- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2008 1 Oct
- Hibernation Pieces
- Back to the Five
- Who I Was and Who I Am
- Rolling with the Punches
- Hearts on Sleeves
- Pure Concept
- Forgetting to Remember
- Nothing to Hide
- Miracle Photo
- Speechless Mess
- Dead Giveaway
When you think about it, there's deeper meaning to a "sophomore slump" than merely an inferior follow-up to an artist's debut. Listeners tend to be more forgiving with the first album, latching on to a likeable sound in hopes that the artist will develop their potential with time.By its very nature, the sophomore effort carries expectations—it's the artist's chance to delve deeper, shine brighter, and build on the qualities that first drew attention.
That's simply not the case here for Ruth, the Portland, Oregon band named after lead singer and guitarist Dustin Ruth (and also an acronym for "Return Us To Him"). They certainly made an impression in 2007 with Secondhand Dreaming, introducing their music to audiences by opening on tour for Switchfoot and Relient K. That first album was a collection of songs written over ten year's time, while
"Anorak" is British slang for one who talks at great length about an unfathomable interest; it's also a heavy jacket, but that's less the conversation starter for matters of faith. Unfortunately, the title is as interesting as it gets. Though Ruth's songs are again clearly Christian without being explicit, they're more often dull and banal rather than poetic, broadly understood expressions of faith. "Dead Giveway" illustrates this with its bland wording of divine inspiration through nature—"I've made up my mind/I'm yours and you're mine/And I'm telling you this time/Nothing's gonna change that … You amaze me."
Most tracks on the album deal generically with conforming to Christ ("Pure Concept," "Hibernation Pieces") and trusting in God ("Forgetting to Remember"), though "Who I Was and Who I Am" portrays inner transformation with more thoughtfulness and scriptural reference (Philippians 1:6). However, I'm beginning to think that bands offer songs about homesickness ("Back to the Five") and life on the road ("Rolling with the Punches") when they can't think of anything better to write about. Yes, they're writing about what they know, but it still needs to be personable or relatable.
Truth be told, Ruth's first effort impressed not with songwriting but sound—catchy, accessible pop/rock that owes much to Switchfoot, Weezer, Ryan Adams, and the work of Josh Caterer (Smoking Popes, Duvall). The strong sense of melody continues with
Overall, it's a good album; you've just heard similar and better. Either Ruth is out of creative ideas or else they created their follow-up too quickly—I'm hoping the latter.