Young Guv, aka Ben Cook, is best known for his part as guitarist in the legendary Toronto hardcore outfit Fucked Up, but if you approach his latest solo record, Ripe 4 Luv, with the same expectations you’ll be, if not disappointed, sorely confused. The cutesy misspellings and slacker-pop melodies cover up surprisingly heavy lyrical content, but instead of being subversively intelligent the record comes off like a toss-up between fashionably uncaring and deeply indebted. There’s nothing at all bad about Ripe 4 Luv besides, perhaps, a lack of motivation, but it’s a confusing album to try to decipher nonetheless.
Starting with a maybe-drum-machine beat and hazy vocals, “Crushing Sensation” is simple but satisfying, especially towards the back third of the track when all of the instruments start colliding into each other. There’s a smattering of influences bouncing back and forth off the opening tracks that’s kind of fun to poke at, even if it’s pretty blatant. Like a vibrantly optimistic Big Star, the title track is an ’80s pop song without that decade’s trademark digital synthesis, but Cook borrows with aplomb those long chorus-heavy hooks to sustain the bulk of the tune before fading out with sounds borrowed straight from an old Casio keyboard.
“Crawling Back To You” continues that big ’80s sound with a really fun dive-bomb guitar intro and smooth verses, and wouldn’t be out of place in your car radio coming from an easy-listening station that’s confused this for a cover of “September Gurls”. The track ends with the same over-the-top guitar caterwaul before diving into “Aquarian”, which puts a regrettable damper on the road trip-worthy jams with what amounts to the album’s lone ballad. While “Aquarian” tries to pull itself off as sexy and sullen, it comes off about as romantic as a badly-mangled porno VHS—part of the subversive nature of Ripe 4 Luv makes me think that this warble-soaked shoulder-shaker is intentionally off-balanced, and it’s hard to tell whether to give applause or condemnation for how uncomfortable it made me.
It’s the second half of Ripe 4 Luv that really shines. “Kelly, I’m Not A Creep” is bombastic and phenomenally catchy, blending the anthemic refrains of early pop-punk with a classic rock instrumental arrangement and singing that is refreshingly sincere. Things keep up at this pace for nearly the rest of the record, with “Dear Drew”’s stolen Ted Leo identity and “Living The Dream” and its return to big ’80s pop. If closer track “Wrong Crowd” didn’t overstay its welcome by five minutes, the album would have ended as a celebration. Instead, that final take has all the same problems of “Aquarian” and it’s faux-lounge vibe that reeks so strongly of cheesiness it nearly derails the enthusiasm of the rest of the record.
I went into Ripe 4 Luv thinking it was a decidedly average record played tongue-in-cheek by a musician with too much time on his hands. By the end of the record, though, it’s easy to see that there is some genuine excitement present on Young Guv’s latest release—and although there are those moments that seem absolutely stuck in the contemporary pop junkyard, for much of Ripe 4 Luv Ben Cook stitches together a record that is both innocent and yet filled with a striking maturity.