A few months ago, when I learned of Ronnie Martin’s “unplugged” album, I was hesitant. I remained skeptical up until the day I actually heard an excerpt of “Monosynth” on the Internet. Suddenly, I was no longer skeptical, but impatient for its release. That small excerpt of “Monosynth” was enough to whet my appetite for the rest of the album, which, as it turns out, isn’t “unelectric.” Instead, it consists of lovely, hushed versions of Ronnie’s joyous pop songs. There are acoustics and piano, but the synth is still evident, creating a wispy, calming effect.
After I recovered from my shock at the difference of this album compared to past (though Five Stars for Failure comes close), I noticed the distinctive elements that separated Unelectric from previous releases. The fills Martin uses on the piano (“Monosynth,” “Disco for a Ride,” “Candy Cane Carriage”); the hovering, oceanic keys that lavish each track; and Martin’s deeper vocals (“True Harmony,” “Sugar Rush”) all take place in a matter of minutes. It’s as if Nick Cave decided to cover a group of Joy Electric songs. (Editor: If you can believe that!) This is probably the reason why a few of my fellow Joy Electric fans had mixed feelings concerning the new LP.
I could easily go into lengthy descriptions of each track and how he has arranged them differently, but it would take away from the initial reaction. The essentials are all that is needed to prepare for Unelectric. Ironically, the vocals are the most notable aspect of Unelectric. My reaction was similar to my very first listen Joy Electric, when I actually thought the singer was female. I was taken aback at first listen of “True Harmony” and nearly thought it was a different vocalist. Martin’s meloncholy voice was so distant from the near chirpy vocals on tracks like “Children of the Lord” that I almost didn’t recognize it. The difference pops up again on “Sugar Rush,” of all tracks. It sounds like the rush has become a downer and the lethargy is setting in. Without the lyrics, it would be unrecognizable.
The piano is the primary instrument that captures your ear and draws it to the beauty of each song, with the exception of “Sugar Rush.” Whether dark and in the minor key (“The North Sea”), or played in an uplifting fashion (“The Girl From Rosewood Lane”), Martin’s talent shines through and takes full advantage of the instrument’s splendor. I find myself wishing nothing else had been added.
Martin has also added a couple of unreleased compositions, “These Should Be the Good Times” and “Losing Touch With Everyone.” “These Should Be the Good Times” is comparable to Old Wives Tales while the latter compares to the more mysterious Five Stars For Failure. Both are written sublimely, and I wonder if he will turn them “electric” on the upcoming release. If anything, the elegance of Unelectric is the one aspect it does share with Martin’s past releases, and the future album should prove no different.
Written by Nolan Shigley.