Ruel has had talent to burn since Day One. An explosive Australian pop force, he lit up streaming with his opening batch of singles, scoring an almost-instantaneous global audience. But then came the pandemic, and then came lockdowns – and almost endless array of delays. ‘4th Wall’ is his debut album, but it’s also three albums in one; Ruel scrapped his work over and over, filtering the debris down into this introductory statement.
As a result, ‘4th Wall’ is pleasingly diverse. In an era of play-it-safe pop debuts he opted to hit both the mainstream and the left-field, moving from glossy pop bangers to plaintive acoustic fare. Opener ‘GO ON WITHOUT ME’ is a bold move, with its Elton style piano chords underpinning a seismic vocal. But then moments such as ‘LIE’ – with its open, yearning vocal and Sufjan-esque melodies – or the acoustic ‘LET THE GRASS GROW’ show a quite different side to his personality.
The wistful ‘JAPANESE WHISKEY’ offers late-night musings, while ‘WISH I HAD YOU’ is torn into pieces by regret. Yet the maudlin twilight aspects are counter-balanced by accelerated pop gloss – ‘IF AND/OR WHEN’ bounces like a 1975 stadium thumper, while cinematic closer ‘END SCENE’ touches on late 90s production values, with Ruel citing Fight Club and Truman Show as key factors in his world-building.
Indeed, despite its versatility there’s few elements here that don’t seem out of place. ‘I DON’T WANNA BE LIKE YOU’ is a carefree bop, tailored for summer crowds; ‘YOU AGAINST YOURSELF’ meanwhile has an INXS strut. Taken as a whole, ‘4th Wall’ is ruthlessly entertaining and undeniably ambitious, with Ruel chopping down the excess to leave only prime cuts. A punchy introductory gambit, the album finds the Australian pop trailblazer hauling down the walls while letting fans into his world.
Words: Robin Murray