Review Summary: Rusko in 2012: no apologies, no limitations, and certainly no shame
As the accidental yet apologetic founder of brostep, Rusko clearly has a few things to answer for, none least of which is a Grammy that now resides in the home of one Sonny Moore, awarded to him for certain electronic “contributions”. And yet it’s hard to really be mad at Rusko; surprisingly he’s so far managed to elude the overwhelming negativity that’s been slung the way of every American dubstep enthusiast to rise up in the wake of Rusko’s touring of the U.S., an introduction to all things electronic and English that in hindsight did far more harm than anyone thought was humanly possible. Perhaps this is because Rusko is someone who clearly shouldn’t be taken seriously: in reviewing his debut LP I declared it as the kind of dumb-but-fun album that should be allowed to exist simply because it never attempted to be anything more than frat-house baiting amusement. It clearly wasn’t without its faults but it never attempted to be something other than the soundtrack to a night of Bacardi Breezers and the disrobing of drunken adolescents. Rusko clearly knows his place in the big picture, and he occupies that spot with his tongue firmly wedged in his cheek.
Now that same courtesy should be extended to his follow-up, an album that’s sparked a fair amount of controversy over the last week when Rusko’s (former) label decided to release the album by way of a Mixmag stream without first informing the artist (clearly Mad Decent is a label for the people). But for someone who has spent the better part of a year slagging off the entire brostep phenomenon (“It’s like someone screaming in your face for an hour, and no one wants that”), not to mention comments indicating Rusko’s intentions to distance himself from the movement, Songs
is exactly what the follow-up to O.M.G.!
was always going to sound like: It’s Rusko making dubstep in 2012, a touch more melodious and serious, but nonetheless another series of hardcase dubstep anthems full of hard-nosed aggression and earth shattering wobbles. What holds this album back from receiving the same courteous treatment is that there’s a clear sense that Rusko had finally decided that he wants to be taken seriously, which could also be read as him deciding to fully embrace the ambassadorial role he accidentally walked into. While he’s continued to bridge the gap between dubstep and pop radio, the collegiate toilet humor (remember, this is a man who rose to fame by a track who’s one vocal contribution consisted of the word f
uck looped with a jovial kind of teenage pride) and nonsensical guest appearances are mysteriously absent; while his music has always sounded more effective echoed through an empty beer bottle, it’s clear that he’s setting his sights on bigger and more lucrative targets.
still echoes with the banality of a weekend poorly spent though, from the rudeboy bass of ‘Skanker’ to the piss-poor hip hop antics of ‘Dirty Sexy’ that exists for all of 30 seconds before “swag” gets mentioned. While all these vices were proudly on display last time around, it’s clear that Rusko’s continued expeditions to America have had an effect on him: on one hand there’s the lead single ‘Somebody To Love’ with its (somewhat pedantic) jungle lead-in, and on the other there’s ‘Thunder’ with its perfectly marketed trance leads and the kind of melody that Guetta would sell his soul for. The point is that both tracks are essentially the same product, but while one still sounds like it has at least one foot firmly rooted in English nostalgia, the latter is sadly the work of a man who has spent far too much time trawling the bottom of the Miami bass scene barrel. In the interim between releases for Rusko, dubstep has evolved from one of the biggest underground sensations to a full blown mainstream enterprise, and Songs
treats this rise in popularity like the business that it’s become. One only needs to look no further than ‘Asda Car Park’ to see how Rusko has decided to re-evaluate himself as the gatekeeper to the British soundsystem.
Strangely though, the album is still very much a tale of two cities: for every half-baked wobbly anthem that the rooster-haired cockney thug has in his pocket he still manages to surprise with an occasional outburst of borderline genius. ‘Pressure’ with its funky leanings is perhaps the most friendly the artist has ever sounded without Amber Coffman helping him out, and the dubbed-out skank of ‘Love No More’ is a treat in this, the age of dubstep’s great disappearance. Even the mischievous leads of ‘Opium’ are far from the worst thing in the world; the track is vintage Rusko, and even a tempo change that goes absolutely nowhere and perhaps the most jarring transition these ears have ever heard aren’t going to be enough to stop this track from holding court with the twee dubstep crowds. Perhaps most interesting of note though is closing track ‘M357’, which remains as perhaps the most enigmatic number Rusko’s ever put his name to; it switches between earnest balladry and bruising bass pummel with something resembling ease, and shows Rusko trying his hand at subtlety. And while it’s not the most groundbreaking of outcomes, you can’t help but be surprised when that somewhat fragile piano line gently makes its way into the fray, fitting in so snugly you’d think that it had been there all along.
As brostep’s founding father yet its loudest detractor you can’t not look at Rusko as something of an anomaly. His career is certainly something of an absurdist sidenote in the history of dubstep but you can’t help but not deny him his spot if on nothing more than his sheer charisma. He’s clearly in it just for the sake of wreaking havoc and having fun, and as such his output should be treated in much the same fashion. But whereas his debut succeeded by adhering to certain goals and at least some semblance of identity, Songs
is simply all over the place; glamorous jet setting dubstep one minute, blunted underground chant the next; and yet strangely it's a release that could have been so much worse in someone else's hands. It’s an album made by an artist with one foot clearly out the door, yet the other still very much inside, substituting Rusko's penchant for the silly for the stupid on more than one occasion. Rusko is a man who obviously wants his name surrounded by gold lights, it just doesn’t seem as if he’s going about it in the right way. But for someone who once famously decried “I don’t have a clue what’s going on”, is direction really something we should expect of him?