In the otherwise milquetoast Pearl Jam opus “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Eddie Vedder drops one irrefutable nugget of plain-language, common sense insight in his idiomatic lyrical windings. “I changed by not changing at all.” It’s a deceptively charming affront to the common perception of life and music, the pervasive idea that as the popular winds shift, so to must we all.
The swamp-soaked, mud-encrusted members of Rubikon are following in the spiritual footsteps of Vedder’s poetry, using their new album “Delta” as a metaphorical expression of an existential question: why do we deem that all music must be of a particular era and paradigm? Isn’t good music just that, and can’t the qualities that make good music be timeless?
Certainly, we’ve seen that revolutionary thought in recent rock incarnations, the hallmarks of simple blues constructions evident in the likes of Graveyard, Blues Pills, Monster Truck, Orchid and even acts a little farther out like The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. All of these bands are embracing the so-called ‘old school,’ openly rebelling against the rampant takeover of electronic fuckery in modern rock and pop. Rubikon is clearly throwing their flag in with that vanguard, burying themselves in the basics of the genre and turning the amps to eleven.
The greeting strains of the album’s opening track “Live that Lie,” send a clear message about the contents to follow. The song is a clever, catchy amalgam of ideas we’ve heard before, the combination of ZZ Top and George Thorogood is the rumbling lifeblood of the melody, but it’s the down-tuned thud of Soundgarden that colors the piece into something more three-dimensional. Same goes for the second track, “Three Days” though that selection ups the blues ante even farther, stamping out two-step beats like a counter full of postal employees. This same trend shifts just a little for “Vipers” the album’s swingin’est and most purely fun cut.
There’s something to be said for the general length of Rubikon’s selections. The songs take as long as they take, often over five minutes, which is a good thing – Rubikon isn’t interested in making bite-size, radio-friendly three minute biscuits. Now, does that mean that tracks like “Sermon” and “Swingers” wander on a little too long? Sure, but it’s still preferable to have an artist who leaves nothing on the table than one who hedges bets.
Listeners should take note of “Through the Looking Glass” on the album’s back half. This is the out there ELO, disco-KISS moment of the album, with regimented vocal phrasing and a reasonable facsimile of the Hammond organ. It’s a song possessed of the saccharine, sing-song sweetness of the try-anything era of rock music, when the Bee Gees loomed large and “Saturday Night Fever” was still on the horizon, all the while Black Sabbath toiling in relative obscurity. “Through the Looking Glass” is likely destined to be either the favorite or most-hated cut on the record, dependent entirely on the individual on the receiving end.
The fault with “Delta” is that something doesn’t add up, and it’s impossible to quantify. The musicians are properly skilled, the rhythms hook-laden without being contrived, the songs meaty and meaningful, each with its own characteristic sheen of menace or longing or whatever the desired emotional flavor is. Still, there’s something off, as I find myself listening to the record over and over again, each time hoping that I’ll like it more than I do. Yet the mystery never unravels, no great epiphany takes place.
So that’s the bottomline for Rubikon’s “Delta.” It’s sincere and well-crafted, executed with aplomb and proper respect for the time-tested elements that make this kind of music work. Yet, it may be worth a rental before you buy.