Salt Peter by Ruby (Elec) (CD, Jan-1996, Sony Music Distribution (USA))

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Ruby is Flippin' Tha Bird on Salt Peter

Nov 25, 2002
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Rankine's voice, great melody, amazing production...

Cons:Not enough people know this album...

The Bottom Line: Trip-hop, rock, jazz, and punk all neatly combine on Salt Peter. You gotta hear this release to believe it!

Former Silverfish and Pigface vocalist Lesley Rankine renamed herself Ruby in 1994 and quickly recorded a starkly different kind of music. Formerly part of the indie rock/British punk/riot grrrl movement, it came as a shock to ears that Ruby was something rather different and refreshing. Ruby was a dark variety of trip-hop in part inspired by her new digs in Seattle and also collaborative producer Mark Walk.

What resulted was the illuminating 1995 release, Salt Peter. Strikingly different than her work with Silverfish and Pigface, Ruby is an exercise in creativity and open communication with an electronica edge. It’s because of this self that I discovered Ruby, Salt Peter and Rankine. Without question, the album sounds like a mix of Garbage and Sneaker Pimps. It’s got a rock and roll edge (Garbage) with a leaning toward electronic music (Sneaker Pimps). In addition, Salt Peter is also mildly industrial…a tendency that lends itself well to the overall product and should thusly draw an even more diverse crowd toward this nearly brilliant yet sorely overlooked album.

Initially released on Creation in 1995 and picked up by Sony the next year, Salt Peter is a fascinating solo debut. The trip-hop genre seems a fitting locale for both Rankine’s vocal and songwriting style. Her voice, an even mix of Shirley Manson and Bjork (for the guttural growls), is both evocative and lovely and head and shoulders above unfortunate contemporary female vocalists like Cerys Matthews and Beth Gibbons. Rankine and Walk assembled eleven mostly co-written tracks and in doing so put together an album absolutely worth the effort and money it takes to enjoy.

Opening with the funky, smooth, understated, intelligent Flippin’ Tha Bird, Salt Peter doesn’t let listeners down until the distorted, deconstructed, dour Carondelet wraps up some forty-eight minutes later. Flippin’ Tha Bird is exceptionally entertaining, absolutely effervescent, and chock full of amazing melodies and layered electronica. While at the core the track is of course a rockin’ trip-hop, it’s more appealing and less isolating than much of the genre. Much like most Morcheeba albums, Salt Peter is an easy and comfortable place for new listeners to begin their journey. And the lyrics, well they are absolutely gorgeous in both sound and word:

There are two things missing from my life
Love and money
If I could steal them maybe I'd be
Gimme bread I'll want no more
But give me cake 'n' I'll want cream
And if I scream
It's 'cos I want to

Salt Peter gains in momentum and becomes increasingly experimental (at times) as it continues. The insistent, repetitive beats of Salt Water Fish are nicely broken up by Rankine’s blues-like gutsy delivery. Heidi is a remarkably delicate and heart-felt piece. With little more than a voice, an occasional drum machine, and a simple acoustic guitar the track wields ridiculous amounts of force and creates an uneasy ambiance. Rankine yowls, howls, and emotes in a manner similar only to Bjork. It’s a remarkable effort…as is Walk’s creative production and unafraid use of instruments and samples.

With a focus on ringing bells, an electric guitar, and a drum machine Tiny Meat is creatively free while remaining absolutely appealing even to non-electronica fans. It thumps, growls, and whirrs while Rankine yelps with punk attitude and infectious energy. But most everything on this nearly perfect album is overshadowed by Paraffin, an intensely arranged song with an extremely vibrant and catchy chorus. Without question, Paraffin is the most lovely offering on this astonishing album.

Are we all wrapped up, wrapped up together
Are we all wrapped up, fit for the kill
Are we all wrapped up, stacked up together
Stretch my neck to look up to him

Compared to Paraffin, the rest of the album is only very good. Hoops presents a creative percussive arrangement with a bass drum and drum machines laced with electric guitars, various noises, and keyboard. And then there is Rankine’s voice, the centerpiece of this lovely album. Once again, it is perfectly timed precisely arranged and perfectly placed.

Pine is probably the weakest track on the album, sounding a bit like punk rock, a bit like a James Bond theme song, and lacking the accessibility of the rest of the tracks. But following closely is Swallow Baby, a thickly produced and layered track ranking among the top three or four offerings on Salt Peter. Is it a dance track? A jazz track? Or a rock track? Regardless of categories, easy descriptors and the like, Swallow Baby is an imaginative and striking cut.

The final three tracks are merely better than average. The Whole Is Equal to the Sum of Its Parts is a decent track, but lacks the drive to really drag the emotions into the fray. Rankine sounds as perfect as usual, but the music at times outweighs her voice and ruins the atmosphere that could otherwise exist. Bud is a twisted and bulky little track. More than any other on the album, Bud is a dreamy jazz track complete with tapped cymbals and trombones. It’s an interesting, though at times difficult song.

Finally, Carondelet populates the final slot on Salt Peter. Roughly produced, the track’s main melody is meant to sound like a record player complete with dusty crackle. But as the song progresses, an increasing number of elements are added until Ruby breaks out with an entirely pop melody. It’s gorgeous and an ingenious way to end this genius album. Bravo to Rankine and Walk.

Ruby released just one subsequent full-length effort, 2001’s Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool. While the latter release is good, it’s not nearly up to par with this near-perfect debut. Salt Peter is a wonderful album, and serves as a great bridge from the electronically enhanced rock of Garbage to more adventurous contemporary trip-hop acts. Unfortunately, few people know of Ruby and even fewer own this album.

Be the first on the block…I dare you…

Rating: 5/5 stars

Track Listing:
01. Flippin’ Tha Bird
02. Salt Water Fish
03. Heidi
04. Tiny Meat
05. Paraffin
06. Hoops
07. Pine
08. Swallow Baby
09. The Whole Is Equal to the Sum of Its Parts
10. Bud
11. Carondelet

Recommend this product? Yes

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