It’s a full decade since The Rubens, then teenagers, uploaded their first tracks to Australian radio station Triple J’s website. Ten years on and they’re offering up their fourth album ‘0202’, the slightly delayed and slightly rebranded fourth LP that was set to drop before the you-know-what scuppered their plans along with practically every other artist on the planet.
As you might imagine from a band reaching such a milestone, an element of maturity has crept into the quintet’s sound and approach. But essentially, that’s not at the cost of what their fans – like, say, the ones who ensured the single ‘Live In Life’ racked up more than 31 million Spotify plays – are looking from their New South Wales heroes. Opening song ‘Masterpiece’ begins with a Beatles-esque, piano led intro but soon switches up into thrusting indie pop mode, effortlessly brisk in mood and equally effortlessly catchy.
The aforementioned ‘Live In Life’ arrives early too, another corker that matches jangling guitars with smooth pop sensibilities, down to the harmony-rich chorus and the fingerclicks that underline its breezy rhythm. ‘Holiday’ is probably the supreme earworm here – although there’s plenty of competition – with its “you’re cool/ you’re cool/ you’re cool” refrain really getting under your skin. It’s an example, too, of the musical freedom the now self-producing group are enjoying, a slinky, almost Afrobeat guitar snaking in and out of a solid, programmed, practically hip-hop groove.
It’s as the album reaches its second half that the mood begins to move. The Rubens’ typical lyrical fayre seems to be based around the exultant highs and plunging lows of young love – ‘Masterpiece’, for instance, is a song about retrospectively realising you lost The One – and why shouldn’t it, as that’s probably the main concern of their audience too. But some of the latter stages of ‘0202’ definitely marks a move into different thematic territory, all the more powerful because we’ve been swept along on a wave of generally good vibes up to this point.
Then comes along ‘State of My Mind’. It’s dramatic and epic, the lyrics feeling more raw and revelatory, more intimate than before. It’s the sound of the band growing up in front of your eyes. The album’s closing tune ‘Party’, meanwhile, mirrors the album’s solo piano opening but goes very much the other way, concluding proceedings with a full on ballad that declares, In pretty overwrought fashion, “the party’s over.”
All in all, it’s a pretty smart move by the Aussies. It’s more of a subtle, gradual evolution to more adult sensibilities than the kind of road to Damascus conversion encountered by Miley Cyrus circa ‘Wrecking Ball’, A move that will take their fans with them rather than leave them behind. One that will doubtless see them continue to fill arenas and festival main stages – and the lucky blighters in Australia, remember, are back with live music thanks to their altogether more stringent pandemic arrangements – but futureproof themselves from potential irrelevance further down the line.
Not that it feels like they’ve planned it. Given that 2020 was the year the world was turned upside down for us all, it’s entirely natural that ‘0202’ should end up having an element of that craziness in its DNA too.