Album Review: Ra - "Critical Mass"

Ra has been a name in my personal rolodex for a long time. For whatever reason, the Los Angeles band has a notable following in my hometown in Upstate New York, a connection that I still don’t understand. So it is with marked interest that I approach the new Ra release “Critical Mass.”

If you’re going to make modern pop metal that has the potential for both mass appeal and radio play, the key is to do something different. In the swamp of radio rock, it’s too easy to get lost amidst so much sameness, so Ra’s incorporation of world music elements helps distinguish them from the mire. We see this a couple times of “Critical Mass,” leading off songs like “It’s All Over Now” and the added element helps to hold attention.

The production of “Critical Mass” accentuates and deepens the heavy bass, giving Ra a depth of sound uncommon in a generally plastic genre. The thundering double kick of opener “Brutiful” brings to mind images of tribal drums and the conviction of a beating heart. Stylistic flairs like these are the currency of Ra, and highlights the individuality some of their contemporaries lack.

At its heart though, “Critical Mass” remains a rock/metal album in the verse-chorus-verse template. There’s nothing wrong with the album and nothing wrong with its concept or execution, it simply is what it is. Songs like “Awake” or “Ecstasy” would have played just as well ten years ago as they do today, or as they will ten years from now. It’s the inevitable blessing and curse of this writing style that it trades potential longevity for the fringes of ingenuity.

For what’s worth, the emotional context of “Critical Mass” feels genuine, vocalist Sahaj Ticotin pouring his heart into the performance. Even the obligatory modern ballads like “Won’t Be Home Tonight,” distasteful though the convention may be, come equipped with a certain amount of authenticity.

“Critical Mass” is more than just another popular rock/metal album because of its individual tastes and world flavor. Nevertheless, it’s not enough for Ra’s record to escape the event horizon of the label entirely. While there’s nothing wrong with the album and it’s enjoyable for what it is, Ra has the talent to aspire to greater things if they choose to push the envelope.

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