Red Red Meat

Bunny Gets Paid (Deluxe Edition)

Rating: 4.5

Label: Sub Pop

Red Red Meat’s 1995 album Bunny Gets Paid marks a midpoint between the twisted swamp blues of the previous year’s Jimmywine Majestic and the later, spacier experiments that evolved into Califone. The blues is still here, as is the swamp, but the guitars have been layered, pushed and processed until it becomes a kind of electronic music. This is lush, textured music built from recognizable parts into something completely new. It’s as though RZA produced an album of delta blues.

All this complex organic noise does not compromise the songwriting. I confess a fondness for songs whose lyrics jump at random intervals from obscure mumbling to startling poetry. Nothing here is as abrupt as Dinosaur Jr. at their best (“Just don’t let me fuck up will you/ ‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you“) but the poetry is better (“Lusted after overload/ stole the light around you/ Ate away the miles and miles/ I can see this ending“) and at least as startling (“Jesus only loves you when you cream your jeans“). The music has the same effect: instruments emerge from the noise, play some beautiful melody or evocative rhythm, then dive back in. The songs range from the almost tentative delicateness of “Variations on Nadia’s Theme” to the overdriven grunge of “Taxidermy Blues in Reverse” and the feedback drenched punk of “Rosewood, Wax, Voltz + Glitter” to the bottleneck stomp of “Idiot Son” to the Sparklehorse dub of “Sad Cadillac.”

All this range doesn’t make it a Sandinista! or White Album. This is a very consistent album, held together by its sound. Part of that is Tim Rutilli’s raspily beautiful voice, but mostly it’s the production. This is a dark album, but not goth dark. It’s more dark like “through a glass darkly” (a scanner, if you prefer). It’s murky and unclear but sublime. Each time you think you’ve understood what’s going on, some new noise comes along to disorient you, and when you decide it’s just an indie rock band being difficult it swerves into great classic-rock riffs to orient you back in a direction you didn’t think you were facing. The darkness that holds this album together is the darkness of a brutally hot summer night when you can’t sleep because the sheets are soaked but you can’t move because if you do it will get worse. The music blisters and stagnates and then shifts like the kind of hot wind that feels like it should cool you but only makes it worse. The cool light comes only at the end, when the seriousness of the whole thing is upended by the song that ends the album, a cover of “There’s Always Tomorrow” from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer done so sweetly and prettily that they can’t be joking.

Sub Pop’s new deluxe edition adds a second disc of rarities and obscurities, including alternate versions of songs on Bunny Gets Paid, a previously unreleased song (“St. Anthony’s Jawbone”), and a couple of covers. There’s some interesting stuff here, from the lower-density, more acoustic sounding “Chain Chain Chain” and the hip-hopped “single version” of “Idiot Son” to a dub track and a Low cover. The standout for me is a surprising and surprisingly great cover of A Flock of Seagulls’ “Wishing,” which either confirms that they were joking on “There’s Always Tomorrow” or that they can take anything seriously. The whole package confirms their attempt to make electronic music with rock instruments, and though disc two is an odd introduction to the band for the uninitiated, it adds depth to a classic album without diluting it.

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