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Ruth Ruth
Are You My Friend? (RCA Records)

By: Alex Steininger

New York's best kept secret, Ruth Ruth treads new ground mastered by pop legends such as Elvis Costello. Bringing punk antics, genuine lyrics, and colorful brilliance to the power-pop field, Chris Kennedy leads his troupes through thirteen grand pop songs on their latest album, ARE YOU MY FRIEND?

Starting off with the first single, "Condition," the album gets off to an energetic start. Chris' pain-stricken voice leads the song through large amounts of bass, meaty drums, and quirky guitars. Never one to go with the pack, Mr. Kennedy's lyrics are both abstract and revealing. "A murder in the bath, my boyfriend. The landlord touched me where he shouldn't have," gives you a taste of the sexual troubles that follow the music around, while "A penguin in the yard, a drip. A ringing bell, a hunchback midget band. A cracker for a bleak and hungry girl. Then it all came back to me," allows you to peak inside the menacing mind of Chris Kennedy. Well executed hooks follow you around like a stray little puppy, too adoring to put down. Then the melodic fury beats you senseless. "Think! Anatomic" reveals more sexual frustrations through the keen lyrical twists and perversions that flow so easily from Kennedy's brilliant mind. Another aggressive power-pop number, the guitars let all hang on the line as they rip through ferocious chords and stunning riffs. The bass vibrates your whole body, booming and shaking you until you are a slave of the music. Then there is the percussion, which is a key component. Getting your feet tapping too easily, they aspire for a higher goal. They want you to get your whole body into them, bouncing and jumping to the rhythm of the drums. Successful, without any real doubt, the song is one of the few serious power-pop numbers out there that strives to get you thinking and moving, while reaching both goals quite easily. Dropping the punk engine that rocketed the previous numbers through pop mayhem, "Agent 99" shows the other side of the band. Delicate, sincere, and potently emotional, if you don't have visions or feelings pumping through body after this song you must be in a deep coma. Striking you in the middle of your nerves, lines like "Did you lie when you declared out loud, I'd like to take my own life, but I'm afraid?" and "I didn't lie, when I declared out loud, you're the only one I give a damn about" are so heart felt you feel as if you could have written them during different emotional periods in your life. Simple, yet complex, after hearing Chris' beautiful vocals on this song you'll want to curl up with a photo album and relive parts of your life that are all but forgotten. Helping to add a very emotional pull to the music are the violins, which are able to drag tears from deep inside you out into the open. Even the strongest of men will be brought to his knees with this song. Too much of an emotional reminder, it's soft pop feel will eat you alive. Then their is the teen-angst filled anthem "Kaboom." Always great at letting his angst out in a very catchy way, Ruth Ruth's two previous albums swim through the same waters as this song. Built around angry, revenge-minded themes, Ruth Ruth's teen angst-pop numbers are able to get you singing along with a smile on your face while you release all the pent up rage and anger that has been storing inside you for who knows how long. A dancing bass line helps zest up the song, while the guitar helps sucker you into intoxicating yourself on their vibes. The drums then do the job of keeping you locked in once you are there, pounding subliminal messages deep into your subconscious. A big fan of bass-focused pop, "Ponies" had a hold on me within the first two seconds. Abstract, deep, emotional, and simply a brilliant piece of work, Chris has hit the target dead on with this song. A tugging bass line starts off the song, backing up the vocals, and maintains throughout. The guitars buzz in and help swiftly drill the chorus into your head, but the verses are what really hook you. Normally it's the chorus that provides all the excitement, but here both the verses and the chorus are so great it's hard to pick and choose. But after listening over and over again, I'd have to say the verses win by a land slide. Ending with a re-recorded version of "Brainiac," originally of their "Brainiac"/"Love Potion #9" 7", they go back to the pop-punk sound they began with.

With each album Ruth Ruth successfully advances their sound. Expanding, while amazingly able to get better and better, there doesn't seem to be a thing Ruth Ruth isn't capable of. They can play pop in all shapes and forms, and they aren't afraid too either. With so much heart pumped into every song, radio would have to be a fool to turn their backs on this terrific band. Going out on a limb here, I'll say it...this has to be one of the top ten releases in 1998! I'll give it an A+.

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