Presenting ‘Hung, Drawn & Quartered’ by Bitter Ruin – In-Depth Album Review
April 27th, 2010 / 1 Comment » / by Madame Katarina
The dark cabaret band named Bitter Ruin was presented in Mistress Ravine’s Artist Spotlight in September of 2009. You may want to read that artist spotlight for an introduction to Bitter Ruin prior to reading this review.
(I’d like to note briefly that Bitter Ruin is, as I write this, opening and performing multiple shows with Amanda Palmer, and because of a volcano of all things! They had been trying to get Amanda’s attention and approval to perform with her for a while! A review of someone’s first exposure to Bitter Ruin is posted here, and it’s right on the nose… especially the part about “gooseflesh”, which they never fail to give me! Also, The Sun reviewed the duo saying that Bitter Ruin ‘stole Amanda Palmer’s thunder’! It’s no doubt that by now, Amanda has noticed them in a big way! Read that review here.)
This is a very personal, opinionated review, and it will likely come across as biased due to the fact that I’m already a fan. However, I want to assure you that my taste in music is wide and I would not exaggerate my praise, I would rate them 3/5 if they deserved it… but they don’t. I hope that you will investigate this band further and find out for yourself that they really are that phenominal.
The masterpiece “Hung, Drawn & Quartered” was recorded in just 2-3 weeks while snowed-in with the producer of The Dresden Dolls, Jason Rubal. While credit to his work is certainly due, it is clear based on their previous releases that Bitter Ruin does not need a popular producer to be incredible. If you have listened to them previously, you’ll know that their style and talent were well-founded prior to working with him. It is wonderful that they had the opportunity to work with someone that would “get” them and allow them to remain true to themselves.
It’s almost hard to believe that this album was created in such a short timeframe. Of course, Bitter Ruin was working on the songs prior to recording, and they shared them in video diaries for fans to help in song selection beforehand! And that is one thing that stands out as special about many bands in the dark cabaret and similar genres… they want to involve and be involved with their fans. They embrace the beauty of collaborating on art and follow through with providing the feeling that their music gives, which is “you are not alone”.
While Bitter Ruin obviously enjoys entertaining, I certainly believe that entertainment is far from their only goal. It is obvious that Georgia and Ben of Bitter Ruin are passionately venting, that they have been tortured in some way. This is especially apparent to anyone who is has been hurt, is empathetic to those who have, and/or is dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. It is clear that the album will appeal to such people foremost.
I personally believe that the people who would most greatly appreciate this album are people who 1) have a lot of experience in life (not meaning a certain age necessarily), 2) are passionate, artistic, and open, 3) have musical experience and a keen ear for technique.
Some say this album is not for everyone, and that some people will feel it’s depressing, harsh or weird. Bluntly, some people don’t want to care about issues, and they are lucky enough not to have been through deep pain in life yet. It is understandable that people want to enjoy life and to be happy, but this does not mean they should shut themselves off to depressing things, or only be concerned about what’s popular to be concerned about at the moment. Besides, it is a very simple way of viewing it, as “depressing”. Like I mentioned earlier, the album and the band actually give a feeling of “you are not alone”. The music is actually uplifting to many instead of depressing, because it illustrates issues that are very real, very common, and some that are extremely ignored. Frankly, people really need to give a damn and to appreciate talent.
What I am about to say is similar to what I mentioned in the Bitter Ruin artist spotlight… At the vocal skill of a lot of the most popular music today could be sung by any one of thousands of high school students. It is catchy because of some gimmicky lyrical content, or catchy beat, but quite obviously vocally unimpressive (or even vocally repulsive). I am not so closed-minded as to hate all of this music and shun all of it, and realize that there are some amazing vocalists in popular music as well. However, I complain when people shallowly limit themselves to this, calling anything better and meaningful, “weird” or “depressing”. Also, discarding Georgia and Ben’s obvious skill and unique quality because of this simple view is a huge slap in the face. I feel that not only can these people still enjoy the big talent of these two and be entertained by this theatrical album, but that if they are exposed to this album and listen intently, they may have an epiphany. It’s possible that it will give them a different perspective and cause them to wake up to the issues of the world… be broken out of their box. You can’t ever make everyone care, and be empathetic, but there can at least be many more that do care and are open than there are now.
Anyway.. rant aside… I’ve listened to this album repeatedly, and it’s a powerful one that ran intense emotions through me. Feelings of awe and amazement, esteem for the artists, of intense joy, of agony, of hope, and of inspiration. If you want your music to make you feel, this is the album for you. (If you want your music to be a fad, I pity you, and you may look elsewhere.)
Bitter Ruin’s video below summarizes a lot of what I’ve felt and wanted to tell about them and the album, as well as expands upon some of my comments. What’s important is that I wrote about them before watching this video, and I am happy to know that I perceived them as they were trying to express. Check it out!
Here, I will offer my first-hand feelings and interpretations of some of the songs for the purpose of self-expression as well as for others to later compare to. It is interesting to see how a song can personally be applied different ways in one’s life. Please do not let my interpretations prevent you from having your own! Also, please keep in mind that these are only my thoughts and feelings, and that the band may have had a completely different idea in mind when they made the song.
The album un-apologetically begins with “Chewing Gum“, which was released on their self-titled CD as a live version. With only a brief build up from soft humming, the song quickly expresses tension and frustration with outbursts. During the song, Georgia shouts, “Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!” and the chorus harshly sings, “Mother you’re wrong, that FUCKER’S not gone he’s here in my bed dying, rotting away, just smell that decay, while you’re all asleep I’m crying“.
What I personally take from this track, especially based on the feelings and words of my friends who have these experiences, is that this person in the song is a victim of abuse. Victims often have trouble completely recovering from the mental and emotional effects of any type of abuse. They try to go on with their lives, however the effects of the abuser seem to haunt them. The person in the song sounds to me like they want to escape this haunting, and they are told they’re safe now by their mother (and possibly others), but they are still agonizing the same. They cry while others are asleep because they are expected to be fine when it’s over, and they may experience repercussions if they show otherwise. “Not again, not again, not again, I’m not broken“.
I found that the album alternates between faster dramatic songs and slower ballads. The second track, “Soundproof Box” is incredibly beautiful and heartwrenching. If I understand correctly, Bitter Ruin actually borrowed Regina Spektor’s piano for this recording!
A literal meaning of the song can be applied to a ghost that is unable to interact with a loved one. However, an alternative take on the song brings you into the feelings of unrequited love… Imagine loving someone with all of your heart, and yet no matter what you do, there is no response to your touch, your words… possibly because they refuse to be with you, or because they have grown cold and distracted, or because they themselves are actually dead. Truly loving someone and having no control to have them is one of the most painful experiences. That’s the meaning I soak in when I listen to it, and the one that I feel is particularly saddening.
“The Dancing Dolls of Porcelain” is my probably favorite song on the album. It is fast and ferocious! Ben and Georgia’s vocals are powerful and beautiful, they harmonize fantastically, and Ben really plays his acoustic on fire!
Anyone who has experienced the financial strain of the economy, and the crying out of the world’s condition, should be able to relate to this song and it’s passionate fury. It presents frustration and a feeling of, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!” and the ways we are forced to live under such conditions. I fell in love with it ever since I first watched Georgia and Ben perform it on YouTube (below). It wasn’t even the official album recording, but it sounded so fucking great! I think seeing/hearing the unofficial version really helps demonstrate their vocal skills, especially Georgia’s vocal acrobatics. Watching their facial expressions when they sing it also shows the sort of acting and passion that goes into singing such theatrical music. Check out the video below, in which we get to see their silly sides, learn about the song a bit, and watch them doing a live recording of the song:
“A Brand New Me” is another slower song, and it is both desperately sad and yet empowering. I greatly admire a part of the song with Georgia showing off soprano skill and singing very high and soul-piercing notes… it sends pins and needles all over me! The way she sings “a brand new me” lower at the end of the song also sounds beautiful, and at that part I think it sounds like Christina Aguilera’s voice (which I would mean as a compliment).
Taking the song at face value, the story is a victim falsely accused of a crime, imprisoned, and the true felon eventually getting their comeuppance. Taking it this way alone is tragic.
I do not mean to sorely distort the meaning of this song, however, I could not help but apply my own deeply personal experience to the lyrics. Memories and feelings come flooding into me when I listen to this song. What it reminded me of was an anguishing relationship with someone who refuses to tell you the truth about their wrongs, leading to painful confusion and self-doubt. The song does not directly mention confusion, but it does say she “can’t sit still” during this “waiting game”. For me and anyone I’ve known in a situation of wavering trust, it drives you crazy with confusion and anxiety… until you ‘lay defeated and cry repeatedly’.
“And you can claim upon your mother’s life that you are in the clear, the jury will pin the blame on me.” Those particular lyrics really struck me, like my soul created this song, as silly as that sounds. You see, I was with a liar who promised upon his father’s life that he was not lying about doing wrong, though the details of the evidence were undeniable… And who do people like his friends and in general (“the jury”) “pin the blame on“? The “crazy” girl of course, ignoring what she’s driven crazy by. This is a very common treatment to girls in relationships. And in abusive or manipulative relationships, the women in the relationship is often blamed, and that’s what makes it even more difficult to get help. “I know that you know the lie, and I know that you know there’s details you cannot deny. So I’ll lay defeated here, and though it may take many years, you’ll come clean.” Well.. As for my story, it’s been about 5 years and he has yet to come clean as far as I know. However, shortly after that promise he made on his father’s life and his breakup with me, his father did pass away. And I did “come out the other side a brand new me“. I went on with life, and became stronger and better than I ever was. “So hide my little sheep. But do you hear me howling at the moon while you sleep? See I’m a restless soul, and I’ll creep around your house until the stories all fall out of all the closets you’ve been hoarding them in all these years.”
“Stand to Attention” – “They are only human like you and I, so who are they to tell us who to be? And why do we follow them and cry when we stand to attention?” This song is fast and another frustration venter… I, for one, yearn burningly for a freedom from many of the responsibilities, obligations, and rules that are controlling my life. Just as Georgia mentions in the EPK video, rules are not always a bad thing. Rules are there for protection many times. However, certain rules can also be bad for you, causing undue stress, physical pain, etc. Kids think that when you become an adult you’ll be free, and while life can drastically change upon adulthood and you gain freedoms, many of us are finding that we’re just bound in another way. There are so many rules that are nitpicky, unnecessary, are there because of someone else’s failings, etc… they make life harder. The lyrics more specifically represent to me the things that we are forced to do by not rebelling, when we really would prefer to escape and hide if we had the courage. “I had a bullet, had a gun, but victimized my courage gone.” Many of us are finding that we’re too scared to try to change these things. But then there’s a part in the song that is very encouraging and sends pins through me again… “And they shot, and I hit, and things I can’t live with, all pushing me harder to grow. But had I not been through this I wouldn’t be witness to a strength many can’t claim to know.” It really is an epic song.
“Limp” is a disturbing tale of suicide, first commencing in a dream, and impending in reality thereafter. I cannot say in itself any particular part of the song stands out to me as a moral of the story. However, looking at the scope of the whole album and it’s focus on various plagues of relationships, especially the negligence in the track prior, one could assume that this painful occurrence could ensue. As with all of their songs, Bitter Ruin does a marvelous job of acting by matching the style of their singing with the story, singing dreamily, softly, viciously, etc. in the appropriate parts.
“Outrageous (Rubal Mix)” is the only song included from their last release “We’re Not Dancing”. I reviewed this track in the MR artist spotlight saying, ““Outrageous” has highly skillful and impressive vocal fluctuation from Georgia. Their name seems very fitting with this song as it comes off to me as deliciously bitter. I enjoy the sense of empowerment that she portrays at the end with lyrics such as, “He’s the one that needs to be scared”.” This version of “Outrageous” is slowed, tweaked, and polished to improve upon the already great song. I think it definitely flows better the first two times Georgia sings “Outrageous”, ascending the scales of notes instead of descending them like in the other recording, and later in the song.
This song is more likely about abuse. The lyrics in the beginning seem to emphasize the insanity it would take to understand the abuser and says that they (the presumed abuser) “are alone“. The lyrics of the chorus say “those pretty eyes can be pretty green, and see that pretty mouth can be pretty mean“, showing that as charming as this person may seem, he has issues of jealousy and verbal abuse at the least. The song really speaks for itself from there, but I’d like to share these lyrics more than I had before: “I tiptoed around you like a ballerina cause I was naive, but you made me murderous, viciousness showed itself in me. It drew out a venom I’d not known about cause he was alone. Yeah he took it out on me and I took it readily. While surviving this attack I soon learned how to battle back. And I can’t say that I know myself anymore. And I wont say that I can be repaired. But I know I know I’ve learned from the trials I was made to endure. And now he wont cross me, I’m angry and he’s the one that needs to be scared!”
“Hung, Drawn & Quartered” unfortunately ends there, at 8 tracks total. My only complaint about the album is that it’s not longer, and leaves one longing for more. Hopefully, with the release of this album and their fantastic success with touring with Amanda Palmer, that void will be fulfilled by the opportunity to see them live… only time will tell. It is clear that these are no amateurs, and they should be widely known and understood. Please keep an eye on them on their Twitter or Facebook, which they update very often, to get news as soon as possible about buying this album.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 at 10:13 pm and is filed under Artist Spotlight, Music, Music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.