Album review – RAGDOLL ‘Back To Zero’

Ragdoll_BackToZeroThere’s a blissful chill you get as a fan when a band you’ve followed for a long time elevates its music to a new level, exceeding any high expectations and even higher hopes you’ve nurtured for them. I’ve had that feeling a few times (Crucified Barbara’s ‘In The Red’ comes to mind), and I’m having it again with Ragdoll’s ‘Back To Zero’. Seriously: you better hold on to your damn hats, your damn hair, and your damn butts, because ‘Back To Zero’ – Ragdoll’s first full length album – is so far out of this world you might need to bring some oxygen along for the ride.

Ragdoll has pulled off quite the nifty magic trick with this release: making an album that is both heavier and more melodic than anything the band has done before. It’s quite a feat, but then this is a trio that is just bursting with skill and talent.

Ryan Rafferty is (not “maybe”: IS) one of the best rock vocalists out there right now. He’s got strong, powerful pipes with an earthy, warm tone that can do anything, anytime, anywhere. (And he’s crushing it on bass too.) Leon Todd is a guitar-marvel. If you’ve seen him online or elsewhere talk guitars, play guitars, post pictures of guitars, teach guitar… you know that if this man has a religion, it most likely has six strings. On this album, he creates some subtle and intricate guitar-beauties, as well as rock and roll riffs that rip and roar. Then there’s Cam Barrett on drums, and this album shows off his chops in grand style. Just listen to the way he attacks the drums on ‘Shine’! To quote Keanu Reeves: “whoa”.

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The album starts off with the title track ‘Back To Zero’ – an instrumental intro that evokes both Rush and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos with its trembling, spacey vibe. After that comes ‘Shine’, with Rafferty’s vocals gliding and soaring above the music: “we are waiting for the sun to shine / shed my skin, lift the darkness from my eyes / no more tears to cry”. To me, there’s an almost symphonic feel to the track, and it’s a tune that showcases one of the best things about this album: it keeps things bone-rumbling and heavy, while never allowing the melody and lyrics to get lost in the sound and fury.

‘Playing God’ is another jaw-dropping, hard-rocking beauty: a head banger of a track that lets loose a beautiful barrage of guitars, bass and drums (“modern man / tomorrow’s fool”). The band then launches into ‘The World You Gave Us’ – a tune with piercing lyrics (“eager eyes and empty minds / hungry for attention”), and a passionate guitar solo. Towards the end Ragdoll cranks the music all the way up to 11, shaking my innards in the best way possible.

The trippy ‘Rewind Your Mind’ has another fistful of ferocious guitar-riffs jangling in its pockets, and like every tune here, it demonstrates Ragdoll’s exceptional lyrics: intense, emotional, cerebral, inventive… words matter on this album.

‘Letting Go’ is another stunner, starting off with a flash of guitar-magic before unleashing Rafferty’s vocals. The band then slips into ‘Dreaming Out Loud’ – a musical stream of consciousness that is utterly gorgeous.

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Ragdoll on stage in Rocklahoma. Photo by Elspeth Erickson Photography.

I love every track on ‘Back To Zero’, but there’s a special place in my heart for ‘Save Me’: heavy, meaty, with a deep and seductive groove and swing. It’s so satisfying that I could live on this track for days even if there was no other sustenance.

To catch Ragdoll in their best 80s mode, check out ‘Love On The Run’, infusing that golden-age hairspray- and spandex-sound with their own pulse and heartbeat, giving it new life. And that chorus? Is pure Rafferty vocal brilliance. Finally there’s ‘Kungfoolery’, a jammy, jazzy, loose and a brilliant bit of musical playfulness.

I’ve been a fan of Ragdoll since 2012. As far as I’m concerned they should be all over the frigging airwaves, playing the biggest arenas, eating organic chocolate truffles and drinking the best fizzy water (or whatever else they like) backstage, because they are so talented it blows my mind. Every release from Ragdoll has impressed me, and this one is the best one yet: rich, heavy, glossy in all the right places, rough in the right spots, and an all-around majestic offering of rock and roll.

  • ‘Back To Zero’ is set for release May 6 – pre-order info here.

Ragdoll’s official website / Facebook / Twitter

Tracklist:

  1. Back To Zero
  2. Shine
  3. Playing God
  4. The World You Gave Us
  5. Rewind Your Mind
  6. The Last Time
  7. Letting Go
  8. Dreaming Out Loud
  9. Save Me
  10. Love On The Run
  11. Kungfoolery

Lineup:

  • Ryan Rafferty – VOCALS/BASS
  • Leon Todd – GUITARS
  • Cam Barrett – DRUMS
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