For a long time, The Love Language were a band that I only associated with the song “Lalita” and while I really enjoyed Stuart McLamb’s self-recorded debut as The Love Language, I never felt like anything on the album sounded quite as interesting as “Lalita.” Ruby Red is the first Love Language album to be recorded with accompaniment (20 musicians worked on this album). Perhaps because of the comfort that comes with collaboration, there isn’t anything as endearingly jarring as “Lalita” on Ruby Red. But Ruby Red is also The Love Language’s most thoroughly even release – a nice set of songs that each play with the combination of antique symphonic pop and modern garage rock tropes. The Love Language sounded like someone affecting bombast with very little at their disposal, while Ruby Red sounds like an orchestra trying to be as intimate as possible – it’s strange but McLamb’s devotion to a sense of personality and intimacy to his music is admirable.
Though the production quality is higher than on their debut, The Love Language still manage to affect the same foggy, nostalgia swept feel to their sound. The work of Dr. Dog comes to mind, but The Love Language seem infinitely less content to rerun old tropes, maintaining at least a toehold in the modern alt-country sound that dominated The Love Language. Even the swampy dance track “On Our Heels” sounds like it’s being run through a ‘70s filter, but McLamb’s voice always seems to offer a perfectly indie counterpoint to any accidental forays into perpetual regress. The songs seem to vacillate between glistening takes on mediocre (dance-beat) garage songs and orchestral pop. This doesn’t save Ruby Red completely from more standard fare like “Faithbreaker” but even this pared-down rock track makes sense amongst the strings and woodwinds due to the album’s relatively tempered production.
The Love Language go for something like a Hollies vibe with “Hi Life,” and yet you would thankfully never expect an older band like that to have written it. It’s these the elements of unabashed orchestral nostalgia that lend the album its most impressive moments, the instances where The Love Language sound like they could be following up for Jens Leckman or The Devine Comedy, as opposed to their big muff renditions of the likes of The Bravery or Wire. “For Izzy” has a Morricone-esque opening whistle that lends the song the kind of dabbling in genre-music feel that The Love Language struggled with. Album closer “Pilot Light” does sound like a grimier recording of the kind of song that might have been written by Electric Light Orchestra in the early ‘70s, but it feels completely consistent with the sound of the rest of the album. The chamber instruments are blended deftly into the rock ones.
Indeed, Ruby Red is a significantly more self-assured album than The Love language, even if it isn’t necessarily a better one. The group (or McLamb) sound much more comfortable carving out their own sound as opposed to hopping from reference to reference. The Love Language seem to have realized that sonic integrity can be as important as catchy songwriting, and though they may have a bit of a ways to go, Ruby Red is a very surprising step in the right direction for a band that I never would have expected to unlock itself from its standard.