My first introduction to The Ronains was via social media and their headline grabbing t-shirt with the slogan Teresa May talks pish. I instantly thought what is not to love about that? I also wanted to buy the shirt so hoped to hell the band were going to be good.
Now the story to this band is quite unusual. The band is the brainchild of guitarist Jim Reid. He already had things moving along nicely with previous band Ronaynes, tours, music and a man as powerful in the industry as Gordy Goudie of Simple Minds fame. He then decided for a full change 18 months ago, changed members and direction and Love, Drugs & on the Dole is the outcome…and the gamble paid off.
This is an exceptional debut, probably one of the best I have heard for a number of years. The music is intoxicating and the lyrics are so thought provoking and relevant to today in Britain and for the last four decades in Scotland. This albums content was born way before the band with the country in the throes of Thatcherism which to this day has shaped our country and our politics to this day.
You have to view this album as a concept piece which kicks off with “Johnny Jones”. It is bluesy, it is modern and the tales of woe start here. The down and out Johnny has been pushed to the point of no morals, drug using, stealing to pay for those and the spiral downwards that so many of the youths in and around Glasgow have followed.
“Prescription blues” is next and with its indie start defies the name until the beautiful tones of Debi Ronain come forth. This song reminded me of Sari Schorr, a singer who is currently shaking the blues world and one of my favourite live acts. Regardless of the story here the song is totally uplifting and has to be my favourite from the album.
“Anonymous” carries the blues vibe forward and the simple but focused drumming of Linzi Ronain is spot on the accentuate to song. The vocal breakdown is gorgeous and is its own little ballad. This is followed up with a completely different ragtime, ska intro before taking on some upbeat blues. Anonymous is far from that as it is one of the most powerful tracks on the album.
Next up is a total change of direction with the dual vocals on “Another Homeless Affair”. This is a more poppy sounding song and a bit reminiscent of the band Texas. The dual vocals work well and I can see this being an instant radio success.
The mood sombers again and you can feel the pain and heartache on “When It Comes Around”. This is pure blues, the beat, the lyrics and the vocals. This will hit you in the heart from the first listen. I can see this song wetting a few eyes when played live.
Now for a bit of humour with “Born & Bred(Glasgow NED)”. This song is so Glaswegian it is scary. The humour of desperation. That point you get so low all you can do is laugh. It is the way we rib our mates up here, the more humiliating the better…there is no time for sympathy. This is a perfect reflection of that.
What is the best way to introduce your band? With a song like “Who the Fuck are the Ronains”. There have been many bands who have written songs based on the band name but none so blunt. This has a cracking bass line and Debi gets to sing her name over and over again and with the who the fuck line it is going to be brilliant live.
I have known a lot of “Vampyre” in my time, most of them emotional who will just drain you but this song has far too much funky vibes to be downbeat. Another incredibly simple song but so effective. The sound is perfection, turn this up as loud as you can and listen to those drums, the bass and that voice. There is an inkling of Maria Brink in there another woman who can portray emotion so well on record.
With a title like “Serial Killa” you would not be expecting such a sublime song, with its intro like “Behind Blue Eyes” from The Who to the fuzzy guitar breakdown it is perfection. Debi plays a vocal blinder on this. Her range is pushed from top to bottom, She soars, she dips and at points you feel she is actually breaking down. This is stunning.
Fancy a little bit of country? Well if you do “Everybody’s Leaving” is for you. A little bit of Mellisa Etheridge and a whole heap of class. This shows just how diverse this band is and it builds to another 90s style pop classic.
The album finishes with “US Marine Corp” and if we haven’t had enough variance we get some punk/hillbilly. Again the drums play a central piece and we bow out on another stunning song.
Love, Drugs & on the Dole is the perfect soundtrack to Brexit Britain. The lyrics tell the story of desperation but the music and the vocals give you the hope that the shitstorm is not going to be as bad as we think. It is impossible to dissect the lyrics from the music but with an album this good who would want to. This album is reality for the modern age and that is exactly how I would describe the band musically. I can see The Ronains go a long way based on this offering alone and I look forward to catching them live for the first time at their album launch at the Hard Rock Cafe Glasgow on 2nd March 2019.
Review Ritchie Birnie