By DAN MACINTOSH
Ric Alba has a punk rock past. But you might never guess this from the wonderfully complicated Butterflies in Caterpillar Drag, his self-produced solo album. It’s been a long time — too long — since we last heard from a solo Alba. Sure, he’s performed with some of Southern California’s coolest bands over the intervening years, but it was 1991 when Alba last released a solo album. He hasn’t put out an album since, well, there was a music business.
The piano-backed “Mirror Child and the Rattle of Chains” is a gently sad Pink Floyd-esque meditation. The way Roger Waters similarly mines his (mostly depressed) childhood memories for stellar songs, this moody tune seemingly contrasts the childhood (caterpillar?) Alba with his adult (butterfly?) self. And just the moment we believe we’ve escaped our rocky, confusing childhood, we suddenly see our younger self staring back at us. Such is Alba’s revelation here.
In many ways, though, Alba does Waters one better by also expressing a sense of humor through his songs. Over a boogieing rock guitar riff, Alba rapidly speaks his way through “This is Not a Song,” fibbing that the song he’s speaking for us, isn’t actually a song. Next, over another elongated Pink Floyd-y groove, Alba mock apologizes with “It’s a Guitar Chord (No One’s Flipping You Off)” because, hey, all guitarists know a little middle fingering is oftentimes necessary. Lastly, “A Brief Exercise in Self Indulgence” is a Monty Python-like middle album intermission interlude.
Much of this many times introspective album can get a little trying emotionally, which is why the chiming, hopeful “Let’s Be Glad” is so welcome. As parents oft-times repeat to their children, ‘You choose your attitude.’ With this song of glad tidings, Alba’s is making the concerted effort to choose joy over gloom.
“Butterflies” is another piano-y number that exemplifies the wide scope of Alba’s skills. This, too, is a song of hope. “God only knows what went through your heart that day so that a caterpillar grew around you/A place to hide/But that didn’t keep you from arriving on the scene, with The Magic of a Kingdom Never Seen.” The story of the butterfly is everybody’s tale. We’re all in terrifying states of becoming who we were always intended to be. At least this is what we hope his happening to us and through us.
On album closer, “All the Things You Made,” Alba confesses, “Hey, it’s just a song, what do I know? /I’m only one of all the things you made.” Let’s be clear here, though, Butterflies in Caterpillar Drag reveals that Alba knows much, indeed. Let’s just hope he doesn’t wait so long to share his wisdom with us again.