One of Australia’s most beloved bands The Rubens have returned with their fourth album, 0202. With the name being a clever play on 2020, it reflects the highs and lows of the last year.
“It really is the upside down, topsy-turvy year”, says frontman Sam Margin.
And yet 0202 is everything 2020 is not – it’s well put together, sleek and a really good time. It takes The Rubens further into new directions started by 2018’s LO LA RU, delving into genres not typically associated with the band, including RnB, pop and hip hop. “We would be so shocked if we saw ourselves using synthesisers,” says Sam. It’s also the first time the band has self-produced an album, with the result being their most exciting album yet.
The album starts on a high with ‘Masterpiece’, a sad pop track about retrospectively realising you lost ‘The One’. It’s one of the catchiest songs on 0202, and was the single I found myself returning to the most prior to the album’s release. Other highlights include ‘Muddy Evil Pain’ and ‘Holiday’. ‘Muddy Evil Pain’ opens with dramatic synths that fade away to allow an Oasis-like verse to come through, before bringing the drama back for the rest of the track. It’s a truly well-constructed track. ‘Explosions’ also makes great use of a synth line, with an upbeat sound masking some heavy lyrics about loneliness. ‘Holiday’ uses repeated lyrics to move the song along, with a beachside sound that really does invoke the feel of a holiday. Twangy, washed out guitars and sluggish drumbeat transport you to island life, before the lyrics bring you straight back down to earth with a “fuck it must be nice to take a trip”.
It’s easy to see why ‘Heavy Weather’ and ‘Time Of My Life’ were released as singles for the album. The opening of ‘Heavy Weather’ grabs you from the start, signalling something big is coming. With lyrics about going through a difficult time and coming through the other side, it’s a twist on the traditional pump-up track in a way only The Rubens could pull off. ‘Time Of My Life’ is similarly upbeat, with a brief but beautiful falsetto section in the second half taking centre stage.
Not everything is a pop hit though. There’s an ethereal feel to ‘State Of My Mind’. The instrumentals seem to float above Sam’s vocals, as he apologises for the way he’s behaving. Even as the song reaches its climax with harmonies and guitars, the outro floats out again. ‘Apple’ continues this to a degree, but the focus of this song is the flow of the lyrics. The lines run into each other so well the track feels like it’s over before it begins, and repeated listens are definitely warranted. On the other hand, ‘Back to Back’ is probably the closest thing on 0202 to older tracks from The Rubens – and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a tight, indie rock guitar track with a killer chorus that will be perfect for festival singalongs.
Closer ‘Party’ creates a sombre mood to round out the end of the album, but it’s far from the only sad song on 0202. Both ‘Thank You’ and ‘Live in Life’ overtly address the breakdown of a relationship. ‘Live in Life’, the first single released from the album, is particularly dark. “I see it as this guy who has messed up and lost someone in his life, and he’s telling himself ‘No, this is fine. Change is fine, I’m ok with this’. But then realising he’s not ok and trying to rectify things but realises it’s too late,” Sam told triple j. It turns out leaning into the melancholy of 2020 may have been exactly what the people wanted, as the track has been certified 2x Platinum and was the third most-streamed song in Australia on Spotify with over 30 million streams.
The Rubens feel like they've finally settled into their groove on this album. While not every track is a get out of your seat and dance song, they are all very well thought out and deserve individual attention. All in all, 0202 is The Rubens’ most adventurous and most complete album yet, with a tracklist that will be sure to become a fan favourite into the future.
This review first appeared on Temporary Dreamer. The full review can be found here.