It’s been a few years since Ruston Kelly came into my life, intriguing me with a genre he coined “dirt emo” – a clever and appropriate way of describing his hyper-confessional blend of country, bursting at the seams with emo-esque melodies and lyrics. On third album The Weakness, Ruston continues to wear these influences on his sleeve, delivering a blistering reflection on the flaws and pangs that flood not only him, but all of us to an extent.
‘We don’t give in to the weakness…’ goes the refrain in the opener/title track, a perfect tagline for the album as a whole. It sets the stage for acknowledging one’s weaknesses and learning from them rather than being succumbed by them, all while adopting the old faithful “four chords and the truth” approach.
Maybe it’s the slightly warmer weather, but it’s the harder rockers like ‘The Weakness’ that stand out the most, despite the more intimate songs being the ones that naturally tug at the heartstrings a bit harder. Incredibly though, late-album highlight, ‘Holy Shit’ manages to work in both these elements, boldly declaring ‘Oh my god I just want to give up / But I remember how long I’ve been fighting…’ atop arena-worthy instrumentals.
Early single ‘Michael Keaton’ is another clear highlight, with a chorus as wordy as it is catchy and clever: ‘It’s 3:35 in the morning / And I thought CBD would not get me high / But here I am thinking “what if Michael Keaton killed himself in Multiplicity / Would that be genocide?”’ It’s as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, the song’s ending revealing a desire to just no longer hear a certain woman’s name.
Elsewhere, Ruston plays to one of his unique strengths, which is to disguise a pop-punk song as a neatly packaged, country-folk anthem. ‘I feel fat and old and dumber and I’m watching time disappear…’ he sings in ‘St. Jupiter’, sounding eerily close to an Americana Tom Delonge, something I never knew I needed in my life. If nothing else, Ruston’s self-aware wryness continues to bring a smile to your face, a much needed trait considering the heavy themes peppered throughout the album.
Per usual, an acoustic guitar and Ruston’s powerful rasp lead the show here, with impeccable melodies that latch onto your ears so effortlessly, they might as well be leeches. The downtrodden songs – and there are quite a few, for better or worse – are sandwiched neatly between the more upbeat, clever ones, keeping the listener invested. And best of all, the songs sound as if they’ve fallen effortlessly out of Ruston’s heart, proving once again he is one of our generation’s finest songwriters.
Haiku Review: Country music for Pop punk fans; may sound odd but Ruston nails it.
The Weakness is out this Friday, 7th April. Pre-order now over at Ruston’s Bandcamp page.