ALBUM REVIEW: The Rubens – ‘0202’

Words by Kate Lockyer {Kate Lockyer Music}

The Rubens have just released their fourth studio album, ‘0202’, and it’s clear that their songs are as much of a jam as ever. The band has mastered the art of genre-surfing, coasting effortlessly between alt-rock, pop, hip-hop and other influences. The Rubens’ commitment to writing songs that feel right to them has given them the gift of an ever-evolving sound and tracks that continue to connect with a fresh energy.

Called ‘0202’, after the backward year of 2020, according to front-man Sam Margin, the album title “really struck a chord with everyone. It really is the upside down, topsy-turvy year”. You get the feeling that the songs on the album are written about that same feeling – a tumultuous uncertainty.

Masterpiece kicks off the album with a bittersweet flavour. Low & slow piano chords and husky vocals meld into a steady beat and steely guitar after the first verse. By the chorus, the song has picked up momentum and my feet are tapping as Sam sings “Think I got it wrong, really all along / You were just a masterpiece”.

A turbulent minor key synth riff introduces the listener to The Rubens’ latest experimentation. “As the progression of the band’s gone on, everyone’s gotten more experimental with their instruments,” says keyboardist Elliott Margin. “When Zaac comes up with guitar parts now, most of the time people don’t even know it’s a guitar cos he spends so much time fiddling with pedals and doing odd things to them. They might sound like an organ or something super bizarre.” Heavy Weather, like much of ‘0202’, channels a darker feeling, and although it was written before the pandemic, it feels like a tribute for everyone still dealing with lockdown, wondering how it all will end –“It’s all that heavy weather in my chest again / Will I ever see a change?”.

You will more than likely already have heard Live in Life, released as a single at the end of 2019 and having racked up over 30 million streams to date. The song seems to have sparked a lightbulb moment for the band, who said “When we were seeing people’s reaction to it helped us recognise we actually don’t have to think about it too much. We just have to make the song we wanna make. And not try and analyse what kind of song it is that we’re making. If we like it, if we enjoy it, if we enjoy making it then we should just trust ourselves.” Devilishly catchy, it’s a song about deciding to keep living your life, no matter how much you just want to give up.

1. Masterpiece
2. Heavy Weather
3. Live in Life
4. Time of My Life
5. Thank You
6. Muddy Evil Pain
7. Holiday
8. Explosions
9. State of My Mind
10. Apple
11. Back to Back
12. Party

Time of My Life might have a brighter timbre, with a groovy beat and sparkling guitar and keyboard fills, but a closer listen to the lyrics reveal someone stuck in a rut – “This could be the time, this could be the time / The time of my life / Everything I need, never satisfied”. In this song, though, there is a hint of possibility for a better future, and I think that the final chorus, with bell-like synth, lifts the tone to look to this possibility.

The next track is another bittersweet breakup anthem. Thankyou features earnest lyrics that cut through pared-back keyboard and percussion. “Thankyou, I thought you were so good / I’m a sucker for a bitter taste / Damn you, you almost had me fooled / But not before it’s too late”.

Muddy Evil Pain hurts (in the best way, of course!). Guitar distortion and effected backing vocals add to the rawness of the lyrics. “If a smile would pull you back from the other side / I’d pinch both my cheeks / And tear them off of my face”. Despite the dark theme, the track grows in energy as it builds to the final chorus.

Holiday carries over the distorted guitar effects of Muddy Evil Pain, resonating with the frustration you can feel in the lyrics of this song, “It must be a holiday, when you’re miles away / Fuck it must be nice to take a trip and fly away”. There is a really cool, almost reggae, twist to this song, making it one of my favourites off the album.

Explosions is immediately upbeat, with a driving beat, jiving synth and cheeky lyrics. It feels like one of those songs that people will be incapable of not singing along to at gigs, especially with the chorus overlaid with multiple voices, all singing “Buddy, take me out tonight / Make me forget / Show me love colours / Explosions on my brain”.

The next song is slower, more introspective, the perfect soundtrack for a cruisy afternoon drive. Synth trickles into the beginning of the song, like sunlight through a tree’s canopy.  The State of my Mind’s simple melody is framed by gentle vocals. Apple is another slow jam, with synth creating a similar atmosphere to the last track. Apple is a song about getting over someone, “fertilise whatever comes next now”.

The last two tracks of ‘0202’, Back to Back and Party, feel quite nostalgic. Both seem to call out for a happier time – from “If I had to choose, if I had to change / I’d be standing back to back with you”,  to Party’s “Everyone’s here but I / Just want to be alone”. While Back to Back employs many of the sonic treats heard on the rest of the album, like twirling synth and emotive electric guitar tones, Party goes back to basics, a modest piano ballad that brings to mind Coldpay’s heartbreaker Yellow.

‘0202’ brings many of the characteristics we love best from The Rubens, but it’s clear that their style has continued to expand.

The Rubens – ‘0202
Out now through Ivy League Records
Buy/stream here

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With thanks to Mushroom + Ivy League Records

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