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Red Red Meat - Bunny Gets Paid: Deluxe Edition

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Artist: Red Red Meat

Album: Bunny Gets Paid: Deluxe Edition

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Mar. 20, 2009

Bunny Gets Paid catches Red Red Meat three-quarters of the way through its deconstruction of blues rock, its tempos slowed, its textures murkier and more ruminative than on Jimmywine Majestic, its temperature much cooler than the hard-kicking, slide-stinging roots rock of, say, “Smokey Mountain Double Dip.” Instead, Bunny pursues a gritty, world-weary, wandering sort of aesthetic, song structure subordinated to slow-moving sonic exploration. Red Red Meat fans argue about whether Bunny Gets Paid represents an advance or retreat from Jimmywine, and the answer seems to depend on how badly you want Red Red Meats songs to be songs, rather than fever dreams, filmic landscapes or hallucinations.

Consider how the album starts on “Carpet of Horses,” with a series of slow blues chords that ebb and recede, a solitary bent note ending each phrase, hanging on endlessly after it’s struck. It’s more like a warm up than an introduction, hesitantly sketching mood but not giving away any melody. Rutili’s voice, when it comes, is similarly hushed, pocked with silences, tentative, buried even here under the barest mesh of sounds. The song builds at a glacial pace, taking shape from a confluence of murmurs, chords and rhythms, until it fully inhabits its space. The reissue’s alternate version of “Carpet of Horses,” call the “Cleversly” version, is, in many ways more accessible, faster by a slight margin, and anchored by the hard distortion of bass, the booming kick of drums. It turns into a recognizable song almost immediately, while the album version coalesces only gradually out of wreathes of smoke. The alternate shows that Red Red Meat could have made a fairly conventional song out of “Carpet of Horses,” but elected not to. Obscurity over clarity, evocation over description, texture over narrative, Bunny Gets Paid makes the difficult choice every time.

These difficulties extend notably to the production. The album, even in its remastered iteration, is crusted over with dirt and static. Non-musical sounds like someone coughing (“Carpet of Horse”), a phone ringing (“Gauze”) and the low hum of idle amplifiers (everywhere) are allowed to flourish in the margins. The microphones often seem to be focused on the wrong things, forcing you to hear incidental sounds up front, while obscuring melody-carrying elements like guitar or voice. And silence – or at least the sound of a room with no one playing – is the unacknowledged sixth member of Red Red Meat. These songs are full of negative space, not quiet exactly, but the interstices between musical ideas.

The remastered, repackaged reissue includes a second bonus disc of material – a 4-track demo of “Chain Chain Chain,” the alternate “Carpet of Horses,” the single version of “Idiot Son” and some cuts that may be wholly new, even to long-time fans. A cover of Low’s “Words” is eerily predictive of Sparhawk’s later, electrified approach on albums like The Great Destroyer and last year’s Retribution Gospel Choir. A closing version of Flock of Seagulls “Wishing,” crusted with distortion and sung in a whiskey croak, unexpectedly coaxes vulnerability and soul out of a new wave chestnut. (Rutili has always had a penchant for imbuing silly, commercially-successful songs with heart. The original Bunny Gets Paid ends with a quite affecting take on “There’s Always Tomorrow”, from the clay-mation Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer, and he once sang a whole verse of Cher’s “Believe” to me on the phone during an interview, surreal but much more interesting than the original.) The big find, though is the previously unreleased “St. Anthony’s Jawbone,” a sweaty, swaggering hulk of a blues-rock song, with blaring, funk saxophones bursting from its overstuffed seams.

The additional materials only confirm what the maddening, difficult and ultimately wonderful body of Bunny Gets Paid suggests. None of the songs are immediately obvious –even the live-sounding, country-raver “Rosewood, Stax, Volts and Glitter” is hidden behind a screen of echo and distortion – and, as a result, all reward repeat listening. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one simply likes this album. It either changes your life or leaves you cold.

By Jennifer Kelly

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