Review: Ruel breaks the ‘4TH WALL’ with debut studio album

Ruel’s highly anticipated debut studio album touches hearts and minds with its reminders that love and loss are part of growing up and into ourselves.


Julia Merchan

Ruel’s debut album, “4th Wall,” is now available to stream. (Illustration by Julia Merchan)

Rojienne Groves, Contributing Writer

I vividly remember the first time I listened to Ruel. I was 14 when my best friend sent me his sophomore EP, “Free Time.” Little did I know that almost six years later, I would find myself in a similar position to my adolescent self, listening to Ruel’s “4TH WALL” and bracing myself for a more mature emotional reflection on my life.

Ruel, whose real name is Ruel Vincent van Dijk, is an British-Australian singer and songwriter who has been making music since 2015. He began gaining popularity in 2017 after the release of his first single, “Golden Years.” His soulful voice touched the hearts and minds of listeners across the globe, making him a mainstay in popular music.

Leading up to the release of “4TH WALL,” Ruel dropped six singles over the span of two years. Evident in each tease was a different emotional register in his music. He has moved past simple yet soulful reflections, instead approaching each song with a mix of upbeat melodies anchored in poignant lyricism and softer sonic shifts. His single, “GROWING UP IS _____” embodied this new approach to music-making, fastened by a strong melody, above which a changing emotional croon tries to contemplate what growing up means and feels like. 

In an interview with Atwood Magazine, Ruel said, “Each song is either from personal experience or […] from movies.” This blend of movie moments with relaxed intimacy is what makes Ruel’s songs so unique — they effortlessly connect the listener to the lyrics, mirroring the experience of going to the theater and feeling the emotions translated on screen.

Throughout this dreamy and evocative album, Ruel stays true to the vulnerable sincerity that has been a mainstay of his musical career. “4TH WALL” incorporates an orchestra, swinging between upbeat and slow emotional tracks that reflect the ups and downs of life. The beginning of the album, the first act, explores a past relationship in his life and the difficulties behind resisting the urge to wallow as you fall out of love.

Listening to the first part of the album reminded me of my adolescent naive self listening to “Painkiller” –– in the “Free Time” EP –– and how I’ve fallen in and out of love myself since then. “SITTING IN TRAFFIC” reminds listeners what it’s like to lose someone and how it’s better to let go than let things go on in pain. “​​Remember the way that you feel when it’s only us, only us / It felt like forever but now we’re just fucking up,” Ruel sings.

In the second act, Ruel establishes the climax of the album with “GROWING UP IS _____.” The tone of the album shifts, reminding listeners that there is no right way to grieve after becoming dependent on someone else and losing them so quickly. He continues to reassure his listeners in “SET YOURSELF ON FIRE.” It seems to be the first time in the record that Ruel breaks this wall and directly refers to the listener, singing  “Spin in circles, spin in circles, got no other options on the surface / But tell yourself it’s goin’ great / On the inside, it’s not workin’ but you still can’t look away.” This direct reference to the listeners allows Ruel to connect with them, allowing him to more effectively share his hopeless mindset. Yet, he acutely translates how it feels to put on a facade around those oblivious to his true emotional state — a feeling that listeners are likely to relate to. 

The final section of the album opens with “SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM,” in which Ruel starts to see the benefits of letting go and finding the light at the end of a dark tunnel of grief and attachment. This part of the album focuses on coming to terms with isolation — a scary idea for so many people. He speaks on how being alone opens up new opportunities that listeners may have never been able to engage in before. 

Ruel reminds his audience that moving forward is not a linear process in “MUST BE NICE.” He writes, “So tell me what it’s like / Oh, tell me what it’s like / To move on with your life / Fuck, it must be nice.” Moving on is not an easy and painless process. It takes time, and hearing Ruel’s own personal struggle is reassuring to listeners who may have undergone similar experiences.

In the final song, “END SCENE,” Ruel guides the listener through all the emotions attached to loving and losing someone. “END SCENE” explicitly references Brad Pitt’s character in “Fight Club.” In the second verse, Ruel sings, “Buildings fallin’ down / Always thought we’d drown / Either way we’re going under / Still going under / Loved you ’til the end / We can still pretend everything is gonna be fine.” At the end of “Fight Club,” Tyler Durden reflects on his life, watching buildings start to crumble in front of him. In this expressive lyrical moment, Ruel is having his Durden moment, reflecting on his relationship’s downfall and how, at the end of the day, he’s changed and ready to build a new life. 

Ruel’s personal progression is effortlessly translated and heard throughout “4TH WALL.” The album presents a refreshing view of love and loss that could help listeners cope with their own fear of losing someone.

Contact Rojienne Groves at [email protected].