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Ruja - Ruja CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

2.96 | 5 ratings

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3 stars Everything I’ve read about this group indicates they were (and are) highly respected as a premiere progressive rock band and a significant musical influence in their Estonian homeland. That said, given the facts that virtually all their lyrics are sung in Estonian, and they only released three or four albums in a nearly thirty year career, one has to take much of that eminence and influence on faith.

This is their first full-length album, released in 1982 and consisting as near as I can tell of a collection of some of the band’s more well-known songs (relatively speaking). A quick read on the group will reveal their most popular song of that day ("Eile nägin ma Eestimaad") was not included due to its politically-unacceptable lyrics (this was still Soviet- era Estonia, after all).

Interestingly the songs seem to get slightly more innovative as the album wears on; up- front there are a couple of near throwaways though. “Doktor Noormann” for example features an almost danceable drumbeat, keyboards fully revealing their 80s origin, and a sort of Men At Work-like vocal track. The next track “To Mr. Lennon” is a mostly acoustic, tender and piano-driven tribute to John Lennon written by lead vocalist the late Urmas Alender shortly after Lennon’s murder. In light of Alender’s obvious intent to honor Lennon I won’t be too critical of this track, but I have to say that it was probably a poor decision on his part to make this one of the very few songs the band ever recorded in English. I’m sure the group’s native Estonian tongue could have managed better lyrics than “You are not dead, you’re in my head” and “You’re in my brain, you remain”.

“Tule minuga sööklasse” (“Come to the diner with me”) is another archetypical 80s new- wave rock-sounding number, steeped in Beatles and Kinks influence but executed more like something Todd Rundgren would have had a hand in. A decent song given the time in which it was recorded, but not progressive at all as far as I’m concerned.

Things start looking up on the second half of the record though. While "Kus on see mees?" carries on with the bouncy dance rhythm 80s motif, keyboardist Rein Rannap (who arranged this song based on the words of beat poet Ott Arder) makes several notable attempts to stretch his ivory-tickling beyond simple pop-rock, to mostly nice effect. The same goes for the next track, which also includes the first and only guitar solo on the album courtesy Jaanus Nõgisto, who not surprisingly is the one who wrote this song. Again the arrangement is rooted in 60s pop-rock, but the native-language vocals and keyboards manage to keep the thing from sounding like a Ray Davies number.

Rannap and Alender manage to save the entire album with the next track, and deliver a musical message that transcends language. “Rahu” (peace) is a wonderful, anthem-like song with complete with synthesized string arrangements, plaintively beautiful piano and clearly heartfelt singing. Five stars for this song regardless of the rest of the album.

Unfortunately “Rahu” will be the highlight of the album, as both “Eile nägin ma Eestimaad!” and “Siin oled sündinud” fail to deliver much that transcends the 80s vibe in which they were delivered. The extended keyboard/guitar closing instrumental section on “Siin oled sündinud” comes close, but that’s about it.

It’s always hard to assess music from other cultures, especially when nuances of tradition, language and context are thrown into the equation. These songs are undoubtedly much more important to someone who lived in 80s Estonia than they could ever be to an outsider listening dispassionately to them nearly thirty years later. I can’t say that this album is a masterpiece or even essential, except possibly to fans of the band. It’s a decent record that, like so much of what was recorded around the same time, doesn’t hold up particularly well over time, but was clearly important to a specific audience when it was recorded. Three stars seem to be the right way to represent where it falls in the progressive music pantheon.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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