Review Summary: Consider this the more polished and upgraded version of their debut album in which many of the bugs and glitches have since been fixed.
Sophomore albums usually come under a lot of heat. The debut album has the underappreciated luxury of being an album in which the band can, frankly, do whatever the hell they want and avoid harsh criticism because it’s only their first rodeo. The sophomore album ends up being the first true test to see whether a band can maintain its strengths, fix any previous flaws, and all the while try to stay fresh and relevant. It’s often questioned and judged heavily before the album even hits the shelves and has a chance to prove itself. When Middle Class Rut dropped their debut album No Name No Color
in 2010, they were a band that offered a fresh spin on alternative rock. However, as I criticized in my review for it, by the end of the album this “fresh” sound felt somewhat exhausted. They seemed like a band out of new ideas right from the get-go.
This apparently was an unfair prejudice to hand them so early on. Their second full-length Pick Up Your Head
shows they are a rock band that seeks to improve and, dare I say, actually listens to constructive criticism. To sum up their debut album in a few sentences, it was an album that’s primary goal seemed to be to try and pummel its listeners with as many crunchy guitars, deep wails and screams as possible. The singles “New Low” and “Are You on Your Way” ended up being among the only times they calmed down and gave us some much needed variety. Almost every other song was loud and abrasive, which worked well sometimes. However, loud and abrasive only works when a listener’s attention can be kept the entire way through. Some tracks couldn’t manage that. On Pick Up Your Head
, the duo make a conscious effort to keep the listener’s attention with better pacing and groovier rhythm to their songs. “Weather Vein” appropriately sets the pace first with an upbeat drum line before getting into the heavier chorus. It ends up focusing more on the vocal performances, choosing to smartly lower the guitar contribution to avoid it overpowering the vocals. “Leech” delivers an uncharacteristic twist after the stomping opener and slows the pace down into a groovy and swinging rock song with a haunting atmosphere in its chorus. “Dead Eye” is an easy-going acoustic ballad with a sing-a-long chorus suitable for long drives down lonely highways in the middle of the desert.
For anyone who liked the heavier sections of the debut album, Middle Class Rut hasn’t forgotten you either. Opener “Born Too Late” kicks off the album with a decisive bang, proving they haven’t lost a step in the three years between albums. Single “Aunt Betty” brings back that great blend of soaring vocals and crunchy guitar riffs. While it’s admittedly not as good a single as “New Low” might have been, it’s still strong and fits well within the context of the album and what it’s trying to accomplish.
Pick Up Your Head
is as much of a step in the right direction as one could’ve asked for. Most importantly, the band has settled into an identity that just plain suits them. Their music is the perfect soundtrack to dusty young construction workers performing back-breaking labour out in the scorching sun all day. Songs like “Cut the Line” and the title track should give you an excellent example of what I mean. It’s a slick and groovy rock sound that finally has the right mix of guitars and wailing vocals backed by powerful and effective drums and the odd “hammer-smacking-metal” sound here and there. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, they have a little ways to go before anything they churn out can be considered game-changing or classic. But give them a chance, they’ve shown us that they might actually know what they’re doing after all. That’s not something I can say for a whole lot of rock bands these days.
Born Too Late, Leech, Dead Eye, Pick Up Your Head