Ratboys – GN (Topshelf Records)

I ask Kim why she likes Ratboys. Her reasons are faultless: good melodies, witty lyrics, a relatable voice (the opposite of Adele). You can’t argue with that, and I wonder why I can’t put Kim on the stand and absolve myself of my task. For starters, I’m not even clear what my task is – as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t more to good music than a good melody and witty lyrics. So should I just add some adjectives to that list? ‘Clever’ comes to mind. Drop some names in comparison? I’m thinking Avi Buffalo (oh sweet youth), Adult Mom (not the music, necessarily, but the same feeling of things happening close to me). What have I done now?

I have a tendency to write about music criticism instead of music.

Second off, I’m not sure what the point of it all is. It all reminds me of that Everett True anecdote (Everett True is to me writing about music criticism as smoke is to fire), concerning the Dexys Midnight Runners. 15 minutes later. I can’t remember the story and damnit but I’ve left my copy of The Electrical Storm in Oxford in a box. Is recalling others’ memories also music criticism? It’s not gonna sound as good as it would out of Everett’s pen, but the story goes something like, he and a colleague (friend? enemy?) after a festival get into a shouting match about who loves Dexys Midnight Runners most, until ET punches his colleague in the face. Punchline: that’s music criticism, the point of music criticism, for you.

That, but a little less violent today, and in 500 words. But the essence is the same: I’ve played Ratboys’ GN four times today and I like it and Kim likes it.

GN is, I think, louder than its predecessor. Sometimes this results in slightly muddier songs – ‘Westside’ is a storm after the sunshine hum of ‘Elvis In The Freezer’ – but other times it means Ratboys shake the sand and split the earth at the end of ‘Crying About the Planets’ (a classic first-side LP closer), when they recall Wilco at their heaviest (and best). Yet, it’s the melodies – to return to a point already made, and which you can hear for yourself – the melodies that are good, seriously good in the can’t-get-them-out-of-your-head sense of the word. Despite the amplified guitars, the songs remain friendly. And Ratboys know how to moderate, alternative between loud and soft, surprise you here and quieten down there. The second half of GN is sweeter than the first and here Ratboys’ country tendencies occassionally flare up in the form of a well-timed slide guitar. Only on ‘GM’ (which, mind, is not the same as the album title, GN) does that go wrong, resembling the worst of R.E.M.

That’s what GN sounds like, and it also sounds like a post-apocalyptic Robert Bolaño novel or a rainy summer day. This kind of music is the hardest to write about. It’s good because it’s good – not because it reminds me of past memories (though in time, it will), not because it makes me think, not because it exists in a social or cultural context which I am or am not part of and have something to say about. It’s music I listen to for the joy of listening to music’s sake. It’s irreducibly good melodies and you can’t explain that.

-- Caspar Jacobs, July 12, 2017