Stuart McLamb is one of the good guys. Like many other indie rock luminaries over the last 20 years McLamb began The Love Language as just a guy recording personal songs in his bedroom. Very personal and emotional, the first Love Language album was a break up album of sorts, filled with rough little pop gems that caught the attention of music listeners in 2009. So in 2010 McLamb got to record in a real studio with a real producer. The result was Libraries, a stunning pop gem that showed McLamb wanted to make The Love Language more than just a DIY project to help him mend a broken heart. The Love Language seem to have no plans of going back to the lo fi bedroom pop they started out making. Ruby Red is the biggest and brashest McLamb’s project has ever sounded, but still retains the emotional heft and intimacy that made The Love Language so endearing to begin with.
The difference is immediate with Ruby Red. For starters, album opener “Calm Down” is a driving chunk of fist-pumping momentum. It’s an arena rock scorcher minus the cheesy bravado. Full of immediacy and desperation, it’s a stunning track that brings to mind Here We Go Magic’s “The Collector”, minus the Krautrock tendencies. The last minute and a half is a full-on instrumental breakdown, full of cymbal bashing and strings coming to a climactic crescendo. It’s stunning, honestly. “Kids” follows it with a junkyard stomp pop swagger and a distant reverb that seems to envelop a mini-orchestra in the background. Further down the pike is an almost angst-y track called “First Shot”, which sounds like something The Walkmen would’ve written in a more pensive state of mind. “Golden Age” flows with more of that Here We Go Magic charm, more so from their 2012 subdued album A Different Ship. “For Izzy” is a real treat. It’s a lilting pop track full of that southern charm and lovelorn melancholy that Stuart McLamb is so good at. Distant strings, plunked piano chords in the chorus, and ethereal vocal harmonies that put this song in the purple, dusky skies of North Carolina. “On Our Heels” has an almost 80s feel, something like Eurythmics gone all southern gothic. “Pilot Light” ends the album on a heart-swelling note, all Polyphonic Spree grandiosity and strings ebbing and flowing till the very end.
Ruby Red is bigger, for sure. But it never loses the emotional center that has always drawn folks to McLamb’s indie pop rock earnestness. The Love Language has given us an album we can all understand. You just have to listen.
8.2 out of 10