Review: Born Ruffians Use Sophomoric Tactics to Create Profound Sound with Album ‘JUICE’

Dan MacIntosh Reviews Born Ruffians 'JUICE' - Courtesy
Dan MacIntosh Reviews Born Ruffians 'JUICE' - Courtesy


Born Ruffians kicks off its sixth album, JUICE, with the hyperactive “I Fall in Love Every Night,” which sounds like “horny” 1980s New Wave, as well as classic rock. Heck, it features a saxophone solo!

When Born Ruffians call its album JUICE, one can be pretty sure this isn’t the same variety of juice propelling Lizzo’s naughty R and B music. It’s not Lizzo, but something equally enjoyable. Whereas Lizzo sings literate, straight forward lyrics, Born Ruffians oftentimes sounds like some of the songs were written during an especially vivid acid trip. Take “Breathe,” for example:

I was lying on the side of the road
Not so different from a pile of trash
Irritated as a heat rash
Plucking hairs out of my mustache

We’ve all been there, right? Not! When you play this album, you also enter Born Ruffians’ unique world.

Dan MacIntosh reviews Born Ruffians' Juice - Courtesy
Dan MacIntosh reviews Born Ruffians’ Juice – Courtesy

Yet it’s this act’s consistent presentation of the unexpected, both lyrically and musically, that makes this trio so darn compelling. One titled “The Poet (Can’t Jam)” helpfully illustrates this quirky Canadian band’s self-awareness. After admitting an inability to sing, dance and rap, they counter, “But ooh, look at my tasteful use of metaphors/I think up things you never heard before.” Later in the same verse, the group advises, “Useful to attentive listeners.”

Yes, unless you’re paying attention, close attention, you may just miss this wacky combo’s tasteful (and also – let’s be honest — tasteless) application of metaphors. Then again, many of these songs can also come off like the life soundtrack to that one pitiful guy in high school coming of age movies that, though always quick with a witty joke, never gets the girl. Maybe it’s this same guy pretending to be okay in “I’m Fine,” singing, “God damned unsociable/Highly emotional.”

Yes, these three members are adults now, even though many of their lyrics read like high school student journal entries. Then again, Rock N Roll is the realm of stunted growth, which somehow makes it all strangely acceptable to defer adulthood for as long as humanly possible.

It’s fascinating how this group’s seemingly kooky rock songs also include sneaky moments of inspirational wisdom. (So useful to attentive listeners). There is deep emotional truth contained in this couplet from of one “Squeaky,” “You’re a busted wheel/But you never squeak/So they pass you over every time they sweep.” The song is also sung to one of the album’s least jittery rhythms, and that slowing down fits because track offers, at the end of the day, a profoundly empathetic sentiment.

JUICE suggests the beloved — yet not nearly commercially successful enough — Oingo Boingo. That band, which included the now extremely celebrated film scorer, Danny Elfman, created fast-paced New Wave recordings for hyper, restless, hormonally unbalanced youth. Yet underneath all the dance floor fury lived some deadly serious lyrics at times. This trio has that Oingo Boingo juice, so to speak, and then some.