Review Summary: Just give it time.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the spacy vocal intro track to Gemini, Her Majesty
and the off-the wall tremolo picked opening of "Ruby Cumulous" herald yet another trippy "progressive ska" (if there is such a thing) outing from the experimental reaches of the Rx Bandits. It bears a striking resemblance to ...And The Battle Begun
's own vocal intro, and the pulsating lows of that bass amid loosely ska influenced melodies feels quite familiar. Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Rx Bandits are out to slap the next huge leap in fusing ska, reggae, and a menagerie of other influences together in your face once more, but you'd still be wrong.
Gemini, Her Majesty
, the Bandits' seventh outing and their first since reuniting for the 10 year anniversary of The Resignation
, opts to shift out of your face and into your ears by exchanging overt mind-bending musical combinations for structure and still obvious, but keenly purposeful proficiency. But this time around, the center of the sound for the Bandits lies squarely in head-bobbing beats and sing-along choruses. In a way, this is a new territory for the group, whose recent albums leaned more heavily on instrumental power and less on traditional verse-chorus structuring. But in either case, Gemini
places its focus first and foremost on crucial vocal melodies and hook-laden rhythms that plant seeds of permanent musical residency in your ear. And while they may start out as unnoticed and uncultivated fragments, take my word that they will grow, blossom, and set root over time.
Sure, the chord progressions are a bit simpler and most tracks play closer to a consistent sound than on the Bandits' past few albums, making for a less progressive-appearing sound. But the structural playfulness of the group manages to find a way to become a powerful cement, filling in the cracks between choruses of tracks like "G2G." It's a little more subtle than it had been on previous albums, but in the grand scheme of things, even the toned-down electronic accenting on a track like "Stargzer" provides the poise and punch needed to complete the track with that signature Rx flair. Some will herald this as a maturing of the band while others will damn it as a regression. But in all reality, it's just a new choice in musical direction for these progressive ska veterans who are still very much at the top of their game.
However, as contagious and impressive as the roster on Gemini, Her Majesty
is, it's surprising it's not a more immediate album. No, for whatever reason, it's a chore to hear the disco tinges at the beginning of "Penguin Marlin Brando" alongside the simplified Mandala
reggae of "Meow! Meow! Space Tiger." It's immediately confounding
that the rhythmic simplicity of "Stargazer" is followed by the bouncing surf-rock inspired riffs and high pitched crooning contained on "Fire to the Ocean." The moods and modes of Gemini
vary wildly, even within the scope of a single track, yet somehow, after just
enough listening, it all comes together quite well.
After five years of waiting for a Mandala
follow-up it can be easy to jump the gun and judge Gemini, Her Majesty
unfairly. Being built on the back of giants like Battle
can only set the highest of expectations and even a slight deviation can incite us to reject material as canon-breaking. But, given the time and attention it needs, Gemini, Her Majesty
easily manifests as the album you expect and deserve from a group of consummate pros like the Rx Bandits. While many will undoubtedly state that the Bandits have lost their prog edge or "sold out" by incorporating so many catchy chorus phrases, it will take a close listen to piece out all of the variations and subtle twists and turns Gemini
brings on her voyage toward dominating your daily listening. And rest assured, she'll make that journey whether you want her to or not. All it takes is one listen.