I have been listening to more true crime podcasts than usual, which have all been covering the same topic: domestic violence. Clearly it is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon at work, because in their debut album Domestic, Ruby Rose Fox shares a very impactful and raw comment on just that.
With brilliantly analogous lyrics and beautifully androgynous vocals, Domestic plays out the story of a woman’s fight for freedom from forced domestication.
Ruby Rose Fox Breaks Free
I think it is only fitting to start with the song smack in the middle of the album, because “Every Time I Tell” says it all. The song opens with names for the characters of the story Domestic will tell: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of whiskey.” The song continues to use famous characters of folklore by referencing Jack Be Nimble: “don’t burn me with that candle stick.”
Even though the lyrics are simple, reading like a children’s book, they are loaded: “my cheeks are bright red / my voice is blue.” Ruby uses her huge vocals to cry out, “He hit me. I took a shot. He kissed me, and I forgot. I kill him, every time I tell…I want you back Jack,” which I take as a double entendre, meaning both I want you back and I want to get you back.
This truly tragic dichotomy of feelings is highlighted throughout Domestic, making “Every Time I Tell” the telltale sign of the album title’s irony. From a real powerhouse of a singer, “Every Time I Tell” holds intensely powerful messages: “he’s not always this way, so who is to blame?”
“Freedom Fighter” is the first of the album, ringing with a pledging quality, echoing with the acoustics of a sermon. The bellowing notes and Nina Simone sounds of Ruby’s lead vocals, her dynamic vocal register unfolding over the bouncing drums and broad ballad-like piano and harmonies send a chilling energy down my spine.
Striking a different chord, “Bury the Body” is sexy and catchy, with Caribbean sounds prevalent in the beat. These island sounds are also inflected into the vocals, with stylized reggae phrasings and tribal chanting of “you’re not a bad man, I’m not a bad woman.” The song ends with these same words being sung on a muffled voice recording, with a tinge of a cry in the throat.
“Rock, rock, rock” begins “Rock Bottom” sounding like a children’s choir at the beginning of a horror movie. “Rose Mary, why you so scary” reminds me of shouting Bloody Mary, bloody Mary, bloody Mary to the mirror, and the piano winds like an eerie music box. With intense lyrics, “Rose Kennedy, who did your lobotomy,” and fun old-fashioned riffs, “do wah / do wah,” “Rock bottom” has Ruby Rose Fox sounding like a darkly demented ’50s girl group.
“O’Roy” cascades with fluttery sounds from the instrumentals, spilling into the overwhelming surround sound quality of explosive drumming. The deep vocals, embellished with a tinge of a K. D. Lang-esque twang and flair, are captivating. The range and disparity of Ruby’s tenor register with her flourishing higher vocals show a real expertise and ease of her artistic abilities. The syncopated percussion paired with the majestic vocals soaring above serves for a truly unique and interesting melodic pattern.
“Ms. America” opens with alien sounds like a record scratching and turning into a warping beat; perhaps echoing a sentiment of trying to stop time: “Leave me baby. ‘Cause I’m Ms. America.” Still, “No matter what you do, no matter what you say, I’m gonna let you stay” speaks to the idea of being stuck in a spinning wheel, turning the meaning of “Leave me baby,” into a plea for the only way to be free.
The song has the dramatic instrumentation of a James Bond ballad, adding to the fuel and intensity of the biting lyrics, “When did I become such a fragile flower, you’re lookin’ like a man with too much power.”
The follow-up song to “Ms. America,” the crafty “Pain Killer,” works off of the same sentiments, using jazzy vocals, minor guitar chords, and art pop influences. “‘Cause I used to be your Holly Go Lightly” is a powerful pun and metaphor for being compliant. And the lyrics go on to say, “I could think of…a thousand things that I’d rather be, than be your cheap painkillers.”
“Entertainer” is a different kind of break-up and revenge song with bluesy rock music: “I guess I made a spectacle. It wasn’t me. It was a bad case of vertigo.” The lyrics are brilliant and the metaphors are striking with a unique and vivid imagery: “you smell like a well/and you’re lit light a Christmas tree.”
With a very 70s vocal vibe, Ruby uses slight intonations a la the great Joni Mitchell and once again shows her great vocal strength as she plays with crescendos of the scales completely in chest voice.
“Dance Of Frankenstein” brings back the syncopated drums and tribal beat, and adds a layer of surf guitar. With the outpouring vocals taking full control and asking for life in the aftermath, I could feel the full emotion on my goose-fleshed skin as Ruby’s vocals once again spring out from the haunting depths to the sweeping wails: “I want to be born a second time/can we do the dance of Frankenstein.”
The circular waltz rhythm and 50s ballroom quality of “Requiem for Danny Thunder” acts as a cool off to the rest of the album. The beautifully melodic piano adds a hopefulness underneath the full sound beaming from the layered gospel female vocals as the Ruby Rose Fox chorus enters for the end: “you knocked me down again, you might just get your way…you might just get it, forget it…don’t blow me away.”
With Domestic, Ruby Rose Fox sends the brave message to be a freedom fighter and to fight for freedom of life, to speak up and use the power of the voice. Keep fighting. If there is anything I take away with me, it is what Ruby Rose Fox says in “O’Roy,” “Beautiful was the fight.” And beauty still is the fight.