Rat Boy lives and dies on Cardy’s charisma.
In the scheme of rebellious young U.K. artists, Declan McKenna is the principled romantic and Jordan Cardy of Rat Boy is the brash, mouthy radical. Although he has made a concerted effort to bring his touring band into the project, Rat Boy still lives and dies on Cardy’s charisma. Just 21 years old, he has been making music as Rat Boy since 2013 and fans in the know will find a handful of rehashed tracks on his proper debut album, Scum. Ambitious and daring at 25 tracks long (albeit including interludes), its mix of recognizable songs and new cuts feels like a major label attempt to take an artist with a cult following and expand its appeal to a wider audience. If you’ve never heard of Rat Boy, this album will make you feel like you’ve been listening for years. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.
Cardy is an endearing and amusing vocalist and guitarist, like OnlyReal in his knack for earworm-level melodies and plucky guitar. The artist puts his personality out there and goes for broke atop music that oscillates between slacker rock and a kind of bleary-eyed, blinkered trip-hop. The early highlight “Revolution” takes the classic pop punk element of an angsty, catchy chorus and adds truly bizarre choices, its verses delivered in a kind of exaggerated, Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys cadence that fits snugly with the chunky percussion.
An effective if unsubtle lyricist, Cardy has a charm that works on multiple levels and allows him to sell lines like “I changed my number, but I can change it back” on the bittersweet “I’ll Be Waiting.” He also shows a penchant for specificity that elevates “Fake ID,” which tells the story of his inebriated encounter with a mugger after he was rejected for trying to use a friend’s ID at a bar. The lyrics are wry and funny and seem an accurate representation of the situation: “He said, ‘Hand over the money/ What’s this? Are you taking the piss?/ Where’s your iPhone 6/ I ain’t stealing this shit’.”
“Boiling Point” brims with righteous indignation, with thundering drums and backing vocals that begin to sound like war cries as the rest of the music builds around them. It’s a unique soundscape, albeit one where Cardy doesn’t do much but offer his general state of the world outrage. “Something’s wrong, can’t you see?/ How can you let people on the street freeze?/ This is our so-called democracy,” he says.
There are plenty of songs here that don’t add much to the origin myth of Rat Boy, and there is simply no reason to have this many painfully unfunny interludes. It makes the album feel less like a debut and more of a mid-‘00s DatPiff mixtape, and the commentary, which includes a particularly poor Donald Trump impression, isn’t incisive or particularly inspired.
The phrase “Young, dumb, living off mum” pops up both on “Sign On” and “Knock Knock Knock,” the 2015 track famously sampled on Kendrick Lamar’s “LUST.” It’s meant to capture both how Cardy sees himself and the section of society he wants to reach, but while it’s a catchy descriptor it also belies the author’s true intent. An artist doesn’t release an album this sprawling or political if they just want to soundtrack a boozy night in your parents’ basement, and Rat Boy shows enough potential on Scum to make it seem like he’s capable of building meaningfully from here.