Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Do you remember, do you remember?” Jon Rubin, co-founder of San Francisco’s The Rubinoos sings on the opening track to this comeback of sorts for the West Coast power pop veterans. While the tune is about some of the group’s influences, he may as well be questioning the audience about his own band. After all, even at their late-’70s peak of opening for Elvis Costello, and with a Billboard-charting cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now,” the act was never a major attraction.
They were to longtime fan Chuck Prophet, though.
He saw them play dozens of times back in the day and considers their fizzy power pop a major inspiration to his own music. Prophet spearheaded this project by not only co-writing the songs with Rubinoos co-founder Tommy Dunbar, but producing the sessions and convincing major indie Yep Roc, for whom Prophet records, to release the results.
Although the band has been around in one form or another for a while (1998’s Paleophonic remains a lost gem), the (mostly) original quartet returns for this inspired set, which not only sounds as good (if not better) than their early music, but pulses with the energy a new lease on life can bring. The songs have advanced, somewhat, from the simplistic teenage/early 20s puppy love of 1977’s “Leave My Heart Alone” to a romantic jingle about the Greek goddess Phaedra (“Perfect was the way they made ya/Seven thousand years ago”). Prophet’s influence is all over the place, particularly in the double entendre analogy between the singer’s heart and an old car that still runs fine in “Heart For Sale.” And who else would write “Albert Einstein meets Patty Hearst” as a chorus of “Miss Alternate Universe”?
Musically, it’s impossible to tell that four decades separate this from the band’s late-’70s heyday. The Beach Boys harmonies are intact (especially in the honeyed closing ballad “Watching The Sun Go Down”); the guitars chug and churn with youthful enthusiasm; half the songs don’t break the three-minute barrier, with the longest just hitting 3:32; and Rubin’s exuberant, sweet vocals recall him in his mid-20s. As befits the best power pop (think the Raspberries meet early Todd Rundgren, with a hint of Cheap Trick’s bite), the tunes boast memorable hooks you’ll be singing along with after the first spin. And the brief playing time makes you want to hear more as soon as the final track comes to a close.
By any measure, it’s a sparkling return to form. Even though boundaries aren’t being pushed, that’s not what we’d expect from The Rubinoos. Rather, this is pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, industrial-strength power pop sung by adults who never lost their boyish innocence. It’s been too long since this somewhat dated music has been done this well. Kudos go to Prophet for having the persistence to make this a reality. Since he and the band apparently chose these dozen tracks from at least 20 new originals, let’s hope there’s a follow-up soon.