By: Rinjo Njori
Ruled shouldn't be The Giraffes epitaph but it sure sounds like that as the latest (last) album stampedes to the pulsing end. To the uninitiated, The Giraffes position in the rock universe is somewhere on the border between Bad Brains and System of a Down. Over the last 10 years they have moved from whiskey soaked surf balladeers to a live hard rock institution. Baptized and baptizing their fans at every show with a stiff middle finger anchored with a smile, replacing their witty vocals with cigarette warning labels, and lots of beer. The current lineup came to a conclusion on February 5, 2011 and Ruled definitely sends the Lazar era out on the right note. However, the bands legacy won’t be with this album.
A distortion fueled intro kicks off "The Border." Reminiscent of Bad Brains "Intro" from I Against I, Damien Paris lays back on every sound afforded to his guitar over the first minute. Andrew Totolos and Jen Carstensen provide a solid backbeat, before Totolos cymbal taps give way to Lazar's trademark vocals. The lyrics, both verse and chorus, quickly illustrate what a strong band The Giraffes have become during their decade long existence. Every Giraffe shouts the chorus, "We get what we want and what we want is what you got!" Starting off so promising seems to hurt the prospects for the album—but that wasn’t the case of the lead tracks on Prime Motivator or The Giraffes. The band revisits these same lyrics midway through the album on "The Invasion". Very different musically, it hints at the often mentioned but never heard early years before Lazar joined and they were mainly an instrumental band. Perhaps this is a taste of “the future” without Lazar? “The Bed” and “The Store” could quickly be dismissed as better than average mid-90s grunge ballads that Alice In Chains churned out on their acoustic EP’s, but these songs are where Lazar really shines. The rest of the band plays to his great vocals. Lazar aptly moves between anger, frustration, and joy. Like Prime Motivator’s “Medicaid Benefit Applique” or any song off of A Gentlemen Never Tells, Lazar can carry a song just as well as the band carries him on “The City,” “Wage Earner” or the epic “Man U.” ”The City” and “The War” are great songs that represent how much the band has solidified their sound on the last two albums. Paris’ guitar work is slick and easily shifts between tempos. Totolos, like Paris, has been there from the beginning and anchors the band. Sadly this is the only recording where Totolos and bassist Carstensen can show how tight they have become as the Giraffes’ rhythm section. “The Occupation” closes out the album. As a last song it succeeds and fails. Rolling along with the sound and feel of Prime Motivator's "Done," the tempo gets faster and faster as the song progresses much like the opening track, "The City". Five minutes into it Parrish, Drummer, and Carstensen all seemingly take their bows with the slow outro that makes Sun O))) look like early DRI. Perhaps the waning is supposed to illustrate the finality of Lazar's departure, but at times it is painful due to its length.
Ruled ultimately will satisfy all the Giraffes fans that bothered to support them, but their previous two albums are the heart and soul of the Giraffes. During those years The Giraffes ruled their criminally small universe. For those lucky enough to have witnessed one of the truly great live rock bands of the last 5 years—enjoy those memories and their back catalogue. . Paris, Totolos and Carstensen have a great base to rule again—but filling Lazar’s shoes might be more of a challenge. When Lazar arrived at the mic stand for his last performance he gave the crowd what they wanted, “If we don’t make it by the end of this show, I’m quitting”. Validating how great the music was, but at the same time acknowledging these Giraffes – Ruled! Time simply ran out.