Three brothers and a friend from a small rural New South Wales town join forces to start a band and take the country by storm. It’s a charming narrative, and coupled with an incessant work ethic and touring schedule it makes The Rubens’ success hard to begrudge.
Their first eponymous album, released in 2012, was a huge success: it was certified platinum, the song My Gun cracked the top 10 of Triple J’s Hottest 100, and they won an ARIA award. It’s no wonder the group have a ravenous following of fans across the country; the lead singer who could adeptly star in The Bachelor, while also crooning the lovelorn, low rumble of Lay it Down.
It would be easy for a band in their position to fall back into the tropes that have traditionally haunted sophomore efforts — tales of travel, fame and the trappings of success. Thankfully, the band avoided that obvious pitfall but insteads seem to have settled on trying to replicate a classic rock sound.
After recording their first album in New York with renowned producer David Khane (who’s worked with artists such as The Strokes, Paul McCartney and won a Grammy for producing a Tony Bennett album), they returned to the same mine to dig for more of the same.
And they certainly achieved it – Hoops sounds pretty much like any middle of the road, guitar-based group in the world at the moment (though acts such as Hozier have shown that’s certainly no barrier to enormous success).
Perhaps a more pertinent comparison locally would be Powderfinger — a group of Aussie axe wielders who enjoyed tremendous local success despite never having the words experimentation or innovation high up in their repertoire. But where the ‘finger succeeded with an interesting and emotional sound, The Rubens fall flat.
The choruses are fairly dull and repetitive and often resort to shouting out the track’s name several times. The lyrics are tried and true rock staple sound bites, constructed in formulaic repetitive sequences. It becomes a pretty easy game to guess what the next rhyming lyric is.
Guess what “slow” is followed up with on Hallelujah?
If you answered either ‘flow’ or ‘know’ you are correct.
But it leaves you feeling like the album is devoid of an emotional core – it feels like someone’s idea of what they think a rock album should sound like.
There are, however, a few moments on this record worthy of attention.
Album opener and lead single Hallelujah has a stomping beat and a shout-along chorus that at least creates some dynamics. Cut Me Loose manages to mesh soulful organ with some crunchy guitars in a pleasing manner. The best of the bunch is the title track, which at attempts to challenge the group’s song writing abilities and shows they can extend themselves.
Other than that, it’s a pretty same-same host of dull, mid-tempo rockers. They could probably get away with it if any of the songs had a really cracking hook to stick in your brain like My Gun or Lay it Down did on their first album — but it does not.
No doubt this album will find a welcoming audience of those willing to embrace the easy familiarity of the tunes, but in an age where so many other local acts are pushing themselves, Hoops is a by-the-numbers release that fails to set itself out from the crowd.