The Red – Let’s Not and Say We Did

The Red
Let’s Not and Say We Did

In one of the more bizarre releases of the year, in concept and execution rather than sound, the Red’s debut is a baffling mixture of acoustic pop-rock, tactless come-ons, and white-boy soul posturing. Creating an unholy crossroads where Robert Plant stands, shirt open from the waist up, and twists his golden locks with one hand while the other lazily holds a microphone (you know the image), while the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz lurks in the background, begging you to notice how sincere he is, the Red have succeeded in creating a no-man’s land where both Robert Johnson and the Devil would fear to tread. And yet, the cover art, depicting principle members Marco Aiello and Victor Langhaar as pregnant men, with virtually bursting abdomens, seems to hint at some deeply submerged satire running underneath the whole concept. But it must be deeply submerged.

While the musical presentation is harmless enough, with the usual mix of acoustic guitars, bass, drums and the occasional piano coaxing images of Matchbox 20, Alice in Chains, and Sugar Ray holding hands, the songwriting is the lyrical equivalent of Beck’s “Debra,” but without the crazy falsetto or caricature sex appeal. Starting off innocently enough with the catchy folk-pop “Be in L.A.,” a song whose only true black mark is rather un-poetic musings of wishing to “be in L.A., far from here / Gotta be in your arms,” the album takes a turn for the worse with the smoldering “Go,” a tragic tale of rejected pick-up lines like “take me to your promised land, teach me so I understand” that are only answered by the temptress with a heartless “Go! Just go, baby go.” Amazingly, the following “Give In to Me” takes this formula a step further, spinning couplets like “Don’t close your eyes / cause I want you to see the moves I make” with breathy, over-the-top Layne Staley growls, and gets even more increasingly and profoundly awkward as the song progresses. I’m talking hair-metal level, lyrical chest pumping. Al Green or Barry White may get away with this kind of sly braggadocio (I emphasize may), but white boys with acoustic guitars probably shouldn’t try it.

You could almost mistake “War” for a rather misguided protest song, with tight acoustic Led Zeppelin riffs and warnings like “do you want to have some fun cause I won’t stop until you’re dead,” but its secret is ultimately blown when it finishes with “your love is just like war,” revealing it as another, rather disturbing, love metaphor. As the album’s most touching moment, the hushed balladry of “The New York City Snowflake Song” presents its lovesick protagonist imagining himself alternately as a snowflake or drink of water “frozen by God” to nourish his lover. Well, it is important to stay hydrated.

A standout track, “Don’t Let Go” rides atop giant, rolling grooves with rising and falling horns but again suffers from tactless entreaties like “show me there’s going to be an end / way up into my head / way down in your bed.” Yuck. The Springsteen-ish earnestness of “I Am a Man” may distract from the story of a drunken barfly sex romp, followed by a rape, all justified with “I am a man / Not my fault / what do you expect of me?” though the track is actually portrayed as social commentary on the irresponsibility of traditional male gender roles. If so, the Red have done well to hide the criticism.

But wait. Nobody writes lyrics like that anymore, do they? There has to be something else going on here. I scanned the promo material looking for some punch line, some hint that this was all misguided parody. All I found was a claim that “like Dickens, Fellini, and Bob Dylan before them, The Red possess an enviable talent for documenting the challenges and absurdities of their time.” If that itself isn’t an absurdly hilarious claim, then it must be the clue for which I was looking. Ultimately, the only way to explain a remark like that is to chalk it up to a profound sense of humor, and this must be an entire work of satire, aimed at mocking every gold-chain wearing sweet talker that ever stumbled into a night club. Add in the album cover art and that’s the answer I’m choosing.

You see, I’m a nice guy (too nice some people tell me). So this theory, which to the best of my investigation holds true, is my form of self-preservation. If Let’s Not and Say We Did is a satire, it is an admittedly poor one — not quite “Weird” Al Yankovic bad, but a far cry from Shakespeare just the same. But to dwell only on all the lyrical missteps is ultimately to miss a strong acoustic pop band, with good bright harmonies, strong musicianship, good production ideas, and a humorous, if not uproarious, lyrical sense. Let’s just leave it at that