This is a Reds alert!
By Jock Vance
The Reds. The name itself should tell you all you need to know. Emotion. Intensity. A hint of danger. This is a band that exists very near the edge, and one that is not afraid of venturing over. And if they go, they plan to take you right along with them.
It's a daring musical ideal, much in the same spirit of adventure that characterized the Doors and the Stooges, but it's one to which keyboardist Bruce Cohen and guitarist/vocalist Rick Shaffer display a refreshing degree of commitment. The two Philadelphians are torch-bearers, upholding the tradition of experimentation that gripped Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop, and they are determined to continue that tradition and enlarge upon their American roots. Cohen and Shaffer are proud of their musical heritage, and they're not going to be overrun by the new British invasion; in fact, they offer their band as an American alternative to the many British bands which presently inundate the North American airwaves.
'It's not that we resent the success of English bands,' says Cohen. 'It's just that we wish audiences here were more open to trying other types of music. It seems that any English band is automatically thought of as 'good,' just because they have some sort of foreign mystique surrounding them.'
It is impossible to escape the influences of The Doors and Iggy Pop on The Reds (Cohen cites the former as the more influential of the two), if only because the band does a cover of the classic Break on Through and has taken the title of its latest work, Shake Appeal from Iggy's 1972 Raw Power album. However, the influence of groups such as The Cure and Joy Division is equally inescapable, as Cohen readily admits. The difference, he says, lies in the feeling behind the music. Where Joy Division had been characterized by an almost unmitigated sense of depression, Cohen chuckles at critics who say The Reds' music is depressing, negative and pessimistic.
'It's more that we recognize that there is suppressed anger and depression within people,' he replies. 'Only they're afraid to admit it; they put on a front of forced behavior to cover how they really feel. We admit that anger and depression exist, and try to provide an outlet for it. There are enough happy pop tunes around we offer something different.'
They certainly do. Shake Appeal (produced by long time Reds fan Mike Thorne, of Wire fame) is a collection of five cuts, each of a very different character but with an underlying consistency which is at times almost subliminal. Behind every track is a haunting, mysterious keyboard fuzz, engineered by Cohen; 'I try to create a textured background that allows Rick to experiment, both vocally and with his guitar,' he says. Shaffer takes full advantage of this, as one can hear on Til the End, on top of Cohen's masterful keyboards, he provides and anguished vocal line, and one of the most memorable guitar riffs produced in years.
Equally impressive is the rather apocalyptic Beat Away, which combines percussion and synthesizers very reminiscent of the early Human League (long before the preposterous Don't You Want Me) with a guitar track as harrowing as anything on Public Image's Metal Box release. Laughing, which opens the album, is a horse of a different colour, but that undefinable connecting element is still there, hidden somewhere beneath the driving, insistent percussion and Shaffer's unforgiving guitar work. Each of these cuts, even the rather weaker Don't Say It, seems to act on the subconscious; like with so much of The Doors' music, there is a tendency to become unconsciously subjugated by it. It's an unnerving experience, but The Reds never said it was going to be easy.
The response to this music has been quite varied. Their first four albums (The Reds, Stronger Silence, Fatal Slide and an A&M EP) received much critical acclaim, and Shake Appeal shows no signs of deviating from that trend. Commercial radio stations have been, on the whole, less enthusiastic, but Cohen is pleased with the reaction from university radio stations. 'FM radio tends to be a bit close-minded,' he says, 'but college students are usually really adventurous in their musical tastes.' On the concert tour, however, The Reds have gathered an enthusiastic following, opening for such diverse acts as The Police, Joe Jackson, and The Psychedelic Furs. On each tour, they are given a better reception, but Cohen is careful not to press the issue. 'We don't want to force-feed our music to an audience, become a one hit wonder, then burn out,' he says. 'We'd rather build a following slowly so we can have some lasting influence.' Right now, they're working on building a following in Canada.
'We've always had really good crowds in Canada,' states Cohen, 'so we decided to come up here to do our video and use a completely Canadian crew to get a difference perspective.'
That video, due to begin production in October, will likely be Waiting For You, another very successful, brooding and moody piece from Shake Appeal. Rather surprisingly, Cohen sees a good future for the video trend; according to him, it can survive and progress if various bands don't destroy it by resorting to 'formula video,' instead of conveying the mood of their songs. Also in the works is a November-December mini-tour of Eastern Canada, followed by a nationwide tour beginning in early 1985.
In listening to their music, it's hard to imagine them being changed by success. Bruce Cohen and Rick Shaffer are men with a message, and you could do worse than to listen to them. It's not an easy message to accept, but don't expect The Reds to sugar-coat it or explain it to you in words of one syllable. You have to take their music as it comes because, as Cohen says, 'We are The Reds. This is what we do and this is what we will continue to do. We're very committed to what we're doing, and we believe we can achieve what we want without compromising our beliefs.' It's a very honest statement, and one that comes almost as a challenge. Honesty is a commodity that is disturbingly scarce in today's music and, for that alone, the band should be applauded. But don't take my word for it. Buy Shake Appeal or, better still, see The Reds live. They want your attention and you should give it to them, because they have a lot more to offer than just good music.
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