Perhaps it’s the nature of the year that we’ll soon be bidding goodbye to, but it’s seen Nuha Ruby Ra go from a one-time member of an art collective in a warehouse in East London, making confessional songs backed by DIY videos, to being played on Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6Music breakfast show, and announcing the cover art of her new EP.
All of Ra’s singles to date have been confessional, with ‘Cruel‘ also speaking to sexual experience – but ‘Sparky’ takes things up a notch. For starters, there’s that ‘Warm Leatherette’ bass-line, and a sax hook that lingers, off-kilter, but insistent. And then there’s the lyrical content: the chorus of “… run your fingers through my hair / Get your words out my head” – a contradictory summation of the power exchange found in the verses, which see Ra both chiding and encouraging the intended listener.
“I’m Sparky”, Ra has said in the press for the single, “It’s a name I was given by an old flame”, and that the nickname harks back to a period of “sex and dominance… Restless, irritated and reflective, even while having great sex”. The song’s lyrics are mostly spoken, giving them an extra sense of honesty and directness, with the dualities of lust and rejection, control and resistance typified by images of spilt, sticky prosecco and long journeys taken for dirty weekends.
Sonically, the song sits somewhere between the post-punk of Ra’s sometime collaborators Warmduscher and the darker side of ’80s synthpop: it’s particularly hard not to make comparisons to Soft Cell’s ‘Sex Dwarf’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Master and Servant’. With Ra’s accent, stance, originality of style and frank talk, there’s a little something of Neneh Cherry, on top there too.
That combination is one of the key elements to Nuha Ruby Ra’s apparent emergence out of nowhere: her diversity of taste and willingness to take influence from seemingly disparate places at once. On a more practical level, but no less important, is her already well-established connections to alternative music’s best musicians and producers – ‘Sparky’, for example, was developed in a ‘synth cave’ owned by Psychedelic Furs, featuring members of Liars and Insecure Men, whilst its producer and mixer have both worked with such luminaries as Lana Del Rey, Patti Smith and David Bowie. If that’s not enough to tell you that Nuha Ruby Ra’s career is ready to ignite, then a listen to ‘Sparky’ certainly will.