Review Summary: Intriguing & underexposed, Ringside mixes samples and guitars into dark seductive tracks
Seeing as I am one of four people who’ve heard of Ringside, I decided to take some initiative and write their first review on Sputnik. Back in 2005 I was watching ‘Survivor’ with my family and heard ‘Struggle’ in a commercial for the Pontiac Torrent and was intrigued. Chances are that’s probably how you found out about them too. Struggle’s slick combination of creeping guitar riffs dark simplistic beats and Vegas strip lyrics had caught my attention so I took the trouble of looking them up online (nobody misses dial-up) and based only on the strength of ‘Struggle’ I asked for their album for my birthday. What I got was a curious and inconsistent album that is still interesting 6 years later.
Ringside is comprised of two main forces: The songwriting skill and voice of acoustic rocker Scott Thomas and the beats of actor Balthazar Getty. As you may have guessed, the balance of these two elements usually determines the quality of their songs. At best it sounds like Matchbox Twenty hijacked Depeche Mode’s synthesizers and began experimenting with sampling (in a good way). At worst they sound like outtakes from 2000 era U2 (in a bad way).
While most songs keep things interesting by drifting between guitar riffs, stadium synths, and samples, others rely too heavily on balladry (‘Miss You’) or beats (‘Talk To Me’) causing the songs to drag on. Thankfully there is great variety of influences amongst the songs that keeps things fresh overall. ‘Trixie’ features funk guitar over sampled acoustic arpeggios. Single ‘Tired Of Being Sorry’ contains a prominent Spanish guitar riff and was covered by Enrique Iglesias (‘I Like It’). While others have light touches of industrial (‘Black As You’, ‘Sleep Well Jeff’), horns (‘Cold On Me’), or haunting vocal synths (‘Raining Next Door’).
Lyrically and musically the album runs from more up beat tracks into darker territory, while maintaining a consistent theme of introspection, particularly concerning relationships. Scott thankfully handles the lyrics with frank maturity as the album progresses and becomes darker. Often he uses the grit of his vocals to bring a pained or defeated feel to songs like the acoustic ballad ‘Criminal’ a poetic pine for help amid loneliness, or ‘Sleep Well Jeff’ which finds Scott playing a poor spirit asking a rich man for a job while delivering tongue in cheek insults.
Overall each song captures a different feeling and are delivered with well worn heart but unfortunately lack the wow factor to really break out, and as such have been overlooked while bands like Ratatat have gained acclaim fusing beats & riffs into more commercially acceptable but ultimately less exciting music.