On September 29th of this year, indie pop icon and Vine star Ricky Montgomery released his second full-length studio album, “Rick.” The album is a unique and intimate reexamination of Montgomery’s tumultuous childhood and teenage years. He explores themes of inadequacy, loss, and vulnerability, all through the lens of his formative life experiences. This album also branches off from his initial theater kid-esque style and showmanship and moves towards a more melancholy, grounded sound.
The album is primarily a tribute to Montgomery’s late father, known as “Rick”. His estranged relationship with his father following his parents’ divorce and his move from California to Missouri in 2005 shaped the intensity of his trauma from that relationship and its end. His father tragically committed suicide in 2009, which left a lasting impact on all of the music Montgomery would later make. Until Montgomery found his father’s handwritten letters letting him know that it was not so, the suicide had been believed to have been a scuba-diving accident, according to the “House of Solo” article “Ricky Montgomery Grapples With His Father’s Suicide 15 Years Later on Raw & Powerful New Single ‘Black Fins.’” This trauma is explored more in-depth throughout “Rick.”
The album’s most obvious example of Montgomery’s feelings towards his father’s suicide is the album’s penultimate track, “Black Fins.” It begins with the soft, somber striking of muted piano keys, which fades into Montgomery’s gentle crooning of lyrics based on a poem he had written at the time of his father’s suicide. The song’s context combined with its meanderingly desolate sound makes it both powerfully bitter and heartbreaking. Through the new channel of alternative rock, the song’s sound echoes the brooding and melancholy sound of his previous album. The song begins softly and slowly, dancing through subtle hints of trauma, and gradually builds to a profoundly passionate breaking point.
“If your ashes came to life, would you just let me down?” sings Montgomery.
The sobering question echoes eerily in the minds and hearts of the listeners. Montgomery disingenuously toys with the idea that his father may not have been all he thought he was, as if he has no shortage of evidence. In his early life, his mother and father divorced, leaving his mother with custody of him and his sister. Montgomery blames his father for his traumatic move to Missouri and his ambiguously negative feelings concerning his father’s subsequent lack of involvement in his life.
He sings, “Black Fins, wish I would’ve known you through the years,” declaring his deep desire to have known his father before he died and his poignant regret and loss of knowing he never will. “Black Fins”, referencing the scuba-diving flippers he donned at the time of his suicide, is a despair-filled requiem for Montgomery’s father and the relationship that they could have had, had his father been a better person for his son. The song lays his feelings of resentment for his father to rest and begins his trek on the road to forgiveness.
This theme is also explored in one of Montgomery’s earlier pieces called “Talk to You”, which is a single from his 2022 EP “It’s 2016 Somewhere.” The song elucidates Montgomery’s agonizing desire to speak with his dead father like a normal father and son do. This song strays more on the daddy-issues side of the conflict than the traumatic side but still deals with the same issue of both missing and resenting his father.
Another song on the album, “Eraser” illuminates themes of acceptance and forgiveness in the face of obvious flaws. The song is an ode to Montgomery’s old indie pop style created in a new, dreamy light. Montgomery employs synth and soft piano notes to echo the style seen in his 2020-era indie pop. With its constant harmony and imagery, the track is at once incredibly beautiful and passionately heartbreaking. Montgomery illustrates his torment in the way only a person hopelessly begging for vulnerability can be.
He serenades the listener, “Come bring out all your vampires/Out into the sun and stay awhile/Come meet me at the comedown/When no one’s talking about you all.” Montgomery tempts the listener with his vulnerability and the danger that their vulnerability could bring to themself. The imagery of bringing vampires into the sun shows the enticing quality of full acceptance and the simultaneous death of flaws upon receiving it. Montgomery really stresses full acceptance in this song, which is key when thinking about this song in the context of the album’s reflection on his home life. As applied to his relationship with his father, “Eraser” is about finally accepting his father’s flaws and forgiving them.
Track 5 “In Your Pocket,” also speaks to the theme of acceptance brought up in “Eraser.” The track begins with an upbeat drumline and some barely-there synthesized vocalizations. This transitions into Montgomery’s effortless and apathetic serenade. The lyrics go, “Don’t hang up/Don’t quit/Don’t leave me alone.” He doesn’t want his subject to abandon him. The song’s sound is sanguine, yet its lyrics are oppositional and desperate. In the context of the album, this song is a plea from Montgomery to his father to stay with him, as well as a reprimand for leaving him as a child and again upon his death.
“Rick” expresses Ricky Montgomery’s path towards forgiving his father for leaving him twice in his life. He has been grappling with this issue of forgiveness for quite some time, but this album takes him one step closer to crossing the threshold. Through this album, Montgomery is attempting to heal the wounds of his past and subsequently find closure by resolving his disconnected relationship with his father. As for growth in the face of acceptance, his new musical style says it all. Montgomery’s departure from his childlike, theatrical sound in favor of a glummer, more Morrisey-esque atmosphere shows his growth as an artist and as a person. He has become more mature and creative as an artist, and his divergence foreshadows further originality, creativity, and emotional depth in his work to come.
Graphics by: Lesly Melendez