What do we think about opening your album with what is most definitely the best song on the record? Such is the blessing and the curse of Ruth Ruth’s Laughing Gallery and their opening track, “Uninvited.” Imagine your 1995 self plunking down the $14.99 at the Tower Records for this CD, rushing home to throw it in your 5-CD changer and out comes this absolute post-grunge banger. And you’re like, “Good choice, Mr. Hipster. You’ve really invested your $18,000-a-year-job money well!” Your erstwhile boss, William Shatner, and current boss, Shitbag Producerface, will think you’re a genius!
But then track two comes on and you start to lose confidence. It’s not that “Uptight” is a bad track by any means, but it just doesn’t match the dynamic guitar fuckery and Gen-X wah-wah of “Univited.” Also, all the streaming services disrespect it so much that it’s on their platforms as “Uplight.” Definitely not the name of the song. The third tune, “All Readydown?” Again, not bad, just slightly less good than the second track, and way less good than the first. Diminishing returns, I believe is what the kids call it. And, this, my friends is the conundrum of CD purchasing in the early and mid 90s. Not-so-disposable income plunked down on indie rock and pop punk records that are like a dart throw every time. Though, in the scheme of things, Laughing Gallery turned out to be better than most. Because, fuck yeah, track four is called “Bald Marie,” and it rocks! And there are some high-highs there on out.
Now, this isn’t an album that comes up in many discussions of the post-grunge era of rock music. Well, exactly zero discussions of that era. But for some reason it has retained a place in my heart in and amongst my many thousands of CDs and memories of a really, really heavy music listening habit. But still, I hate — and have certainly had nightmares about — that incredibly ugly cover and its very particular era-specific feel. I fucking hate it. Also the band name is at once unmemorable and boring to say out loud. It’s not embarrassing like some band names, but just vanilla enough to not be something people can easily recall. But, again, I’m probably one of three people who even remember this was a band. And the other two are the guitarist and bassist/lead singer, Chris Kennedy. The drummer thinks he was in a whole different band all together.
So, I think part of my enduring love of this album stemmed from seeing them live at Tramps in NYC in 1996. They opened for Everclear, and I was most likely standing behind that stupid mid-stage post trying to see if the lead singer actually looked like the freak on the album cover. Remember, it was the early days of the Internet, so seeing a photo of a band was either a pipe-dream, or took like two hours to download on the ‘net. And god knows we wouldn’t wait two hours to see a photo of a group of dudes! But, yeah, I paid $10 to see Everclear. But mostly I think I wanted to see these dudes. That’s how much I liked this record. And, as you can see on my saved ticket stub below, Ticketmaster charged me a $3 “convenience” fee on a $10 ticket. That’s a 30% fee that definitely doesn’t feel at all convenient!
I’m trying to recall what kind of made pop punk different than just plain punk. And maybe it’s a measure of seriousness? Because a band like Ruth Ruth that has a tune called “I Killed Meg the Prom Queen,” where they describe literally murdering a woman because she talks too much — among other various offenses like reading Catcher in the Rye — has to be considered pop punk because they’re tongue-in-cheek, verging on jokey. You can tell from their stupid, fucking album cover — as I previously mentioned. And, yes, theres is some blink-182 goofiness going on here, but they’re definitely way more based in traditional rock music and less in the punk vein than their pop punk brethren. There is some doo-wop and some traditional… Bob Seeger shit in there. Though I wouldn’t curse anyone with that gnarly suckiness. Whatever the case, I look at that $15 investment all those years ago and think it turned out to be money well spent. Cost per spin at this point is down to a few cents.
There’s just something about this album I can’t quit, where I’ve quit so many from that era. It’s glossy without being overly so. It’s fun without being cheesy. It’s just a great pop rock record for a band that hit me at the right time. And, of course, gave me something to counter Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. and whatever else I was rocking at the time. If only someone beside me took notice.