[5 October 2008]
Ninja Gun’s second album, Restless Rubes, merges alt-country sensibilities with crunchy power-pop. Oh, and lyrics about growing up as rock-loving, left-leaning kids in a podunk Bible Belt town. It makes for an invigorating, high-energy listen. The title track opens the album with a burst of loud distorted guitar chords, then settles down into a mid-tempo country-rock tune. Lead singer Johnathan Coody’s wistful delivery enhances the lyrics about getting out of your hometown and starting fresh somewhere new. “Eight Miles Out” comes next, a burst of pure, joyful power-pop with lyrics about being lost in a sea of doubt. It’s just another example of how in power-pop the lyrics are rarely as happy as the music sounds.
“Red State Blues” and “Darwin Was a Baptist” dovetail nicely, giving first an internal and then an external view of intolerance. “Red State” is a power ballad, with woe-is-me lyrics about being in disagreement with pretty much everyone around you. “Darwin” is more upbeat, pairing country verses with a power-chord chorus and lyrics about how nobody believed Charles Darwin in his own time. It’s a bit unwieldy from a lyrical standpoint, but a strong chorus and a cool guitar riff go a long way towards alleviating that.
The middle of the record trods some well-worn territory, but at least does it competently. “Front Yard Screamers (Kitchen Kissers)” is the kind of down-home, acoustic reflection of life as a young’un that seems to pop up on nearly every album by bands in the alt-country genre. “Life Is Loud” is a slow-paced rocker that dutifully goes from soft verses to loud choruses and doesn’t forget the bridge-plus-guitar solo two-thirds of the way through. The band at least has the courtesy to serve up a catchy chorus in the song.
Ninja Gun finds their groove again with “Nostradumbass”, a hard-rocking middle finger to all the rednecks who said they’d never go anywhere. Not exactly clever lyrically, but Jeffrey Haineault’s energetic drumming adds extra excitement to the song. The guitars are mixed so loudly on this one that they almost overwhelm the lyrics, anyway. The album’s last two songs, “Permanent Press” and “Breaking Light of Day”, also work well for the band. The former is another mid-tempo rocker that puts the emphasis on Coody’s vocal melody and has some nice background “oooo”‘s and harmonies. The latter is an acoustic song, complete with background strings, that sounds tender and heartfelt. Coody brings back the wistful tone of voice that was so effective on “Restless Rubes”, and it keeps the song from becoming trite.
Although there are some brief excursions into more clichéd territory on this album, the band never strays too far from its core sound. Ninja Gun works well together as a band, and they have a handle on when to turn up the guitars and when to let Coody’s singing dominate.Restless Rubes strikes a nice balance between the band’s country and power-pop leanings. The album paints a vivid portrait of a group of guys with big dreams trying their damndest to expand their horizons and get out of their hometown. Even if it’s only for a little while.