Six years ago, I wrote a less-than-glowing review of the Quad Cities band Rude Punch's Killin' It, highlighting the strength of one song as a contrast to the remainder. Overall, I faulted the album for "a lack of imagination."
With an opening like that, you can probably guess what's coming next. The rock-y reggae outfit is back with a new record - Lovers Rock - and it represents a major leap forward, with levels of polish, arrangement detail, and nuance that make it easy to look past its generic trappings.
The phrase "lack of imagination" still applies in some senses. Two songs from Killin' It - albeit the best tracks, "Rock for Me" and "Payment" - have been re-recorded for Lovers Rock. That album title references a romantic subgenre of reggae, which is an accurate enough description but is way too on the nose for a record name.
And despite hints on Lovers Rock that Rude Punch - guitarist/songwriter/singer Brady Jager, drummer/singer Adam Tucker, former bassist Al Sweet, and current bassist/singer Jack Hill - could be an expansive rockers-without-borders trio, the new record still feels overly rutted in reggae. It works as a stylistic base, yet it's constraining for the band's talents - a too-comfortable default.
Those complaints are minor, though. All of Lovers Rock's eight tracks are compelling, and clocking in at less than 33 minutes, the album breezes past with plentiful pleasures - with impeccable grooves, playfulness in the production, smart sequencing, and just enough detours from reggae.