In retrospect, the end of Red Red Meat is somewhat bittersweet. Surely, no one wanted to see the blues/rock innovators go, but when reviewing all of the good music that’s come from the individual members since Red Red Meat’s breakup, it’s hard to get too choked up about it. After all, it was arguably worth losing Red Red Meat in order to gain Califone, wasn’t it?
Perhaps it‘s best not to kick that hornet‘s nest. Both bands have earned their loyal followings, and we can reasonably assume that there is a great deal of overlap between their fan bases. So while Califone may not have a following that anyone would call intimidating, they are as popular now as they have ever been. Sub Pop, perhaps recognizing that Red Red Meat’s notoriety is underwhelming compared with their creative output, and perhaps realizing that now is as good a time as ever to harvest some of the good will that Califone have developed over the years, have decided to reissue Bunny Gets Paid, RRM’s third and debatably finest album.
Starting a Red Red Meat reissue campaign with Bunny Gets Paid is a wise choice. Of course, this is assuming that Sub Pop is trying to give Califone fans a smooth transition into Red Red Meat’s world. Fortunately for the neophytes, there will be plenty of familiar landmarks. Droning opener “Carpet of Horses” should probably strike a few recognizable chords for fans of Califone’s “Horoscopic. Amputation. Honey.” “Variations on Nadia’s Theme” bears more than a passing resemblance to Califone’s “When Leon Spinx Moved Into Town.” No one’s implying that lead singer/songwriter Tim Rutili is recycling ideas. In fact, one of the great joys of being a fan of Rutili’s work is watching him subtly tweak and shift tones and themes he’s used before into something new and unique.
This is probably the most fascinating aspect of the reissued Bunny Gets Paid, at least from a historical perspective. Any fan of his work throughout the past decade will get a kick out of listening to Rutili learn the effectiveness of properly placed “accidental” noise. The man, along with Ben Massarella and Brian Deck and many others in their circle, has positively made a career out of utilizing feedback and noise in the most unexpected and successful ways, and by contrasting those noises with intermittent bouts of eerie near complete silence. By employing these methods in unconventional folk-blues patterns, Rutili and co. have captured everything haunted about traditional Americana and pushed it into an exciting new direction. Bunny Gets Paid was where it all began to click.
And forgetting all of that, Bunny Gets Paid just fucking owns. Ignore all the influential baggage and just focus on the tunes themselves, and you’ll still be thoroughly pleased. After all, the reissued album comes complete with a liner notes booklet filled with testimonials from the likes of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse and Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats, who learned to love these songs before they had any idea how far this band would go with this concept. Out of any context, “Chain, Chain, Chain” and “Rosewood, Wax, Voltz + Glitter” will always be back-to-back blasts of skronked out blues-rock, and the quieter moments are just as good, if not better. “Gauze” is a brilliantly patient slow-burner that slowly reveals an infectious melody. Closer “There’s Always Tomorrow” is typical Rutili, shuffling out the back door with a pretty little song.
But that’s enough selling Bunny Gets Paid to the uninitiated. Devotees should know the benefits of upgrading to the reissued deluxe edition. In addition to a sparer version of “Chain, Chain, Chain,” a more ramshackle version of “Idiot Son,” and a more upbeat version of “Carpet of Horses,” there are four new songs. In terms of mood, these new songs share little in common, but between the upbeat atonal restlessness of “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You),” and the mid-tempo demented blues of “Saint Anthony’s Jawbone,” Red Red Meat’s voice remains clear as ever. Upgrade for the deluxe edition. You’ll be glad you did.