Following 2010’s Fight Softly, on which frontman Ryan McPhun largely ditched the ramshackle psychedelic-tropic grooves of Sea Lion for a more experimental, electronica-inspired approach, the Ruby Suns’ Christopher represents the most cumbersome conversion of their sound yet. Attempting to broaden the band’s reach with an arena-worthy album that infuses modern mainstream pop with a synthy 1980s-era aesthetic, Christopher is a radically inconsistent work, containing only a couple of truly memorable melodies while the remainder is a mixed bag of slow-burning love songs.
The seductively astral tones and fervent sentimentality of the opening track, “Desert of Pop,” prove to be quite captivating. McPhun’s songwriting, with moonstruck lyrics detailing how deep his often misplaced passions can go, have evolved from the scatterbrained pensiveness of Fight Softly. Sadly, Christopher quickly loses focus, backsliding into dullness with “In Real Life” and “Dramatikk,” a pair of monotonous, mushy relationship songs. “Kingfisher Call Me,” which boasts a glistening backbeat and some of McPhun’s strongest vocals to date, is the closest the album comes to matching the energized, creative highs of Sea Lion. The dreamy chorus, in particular, is as lighthearted and catchy as the Ruby Suns get: “Dry your eyes/Is what to do/Don’t listen to anyone except for you.” Surprisingly, McPhun manages to escape an overly lovey-dovey vibe by maintaining a firm grip on his emotions throughout, never getting to the point where he sounds as if he’s going to burst into tears if another courtship turns sour.
Christopher is a thoroughly jumbled affair from that point onward, alternating between mildly danceable, youthful arias and introspective ballads that crumble beneath the weight of their unnecessarily dense, sleepy soundscapes. The vapory closing number “Heart Attack” offers a peculiar take on unrequited love, an affectionate tale of adoration told with a unique air of urgency as McPhun tries so desperately to capture the attention of a fickle mate that his body nearly gives out in the process. The song almost saves Christopher from venturing into annoying self-parody, but it’s ultimately unsuccessful due to the uncertainty of its message.