Review Summary: I don't care if you're looking at me and thinking I'm wasting my dreams.
The Red Paintings' The Revolution is Never Coming
has, for several years, been unaffectionately known as "The Album That's Never Coming" -- not exactly the most polite moniker for your debut album. Having been around since the '90s, it's not rocket science to see why The Red Paintings would catch a lot of flak for releasing a relatively steady stream of singles, covers, and EPs over the years without an LP in sight. To that end, no individual member has received a significant majority of the pejorative vitriol than the band's enigmatic, yet enterprising guitarist/frontman, Trash McSweeney.
And yet, the album that would purportedly never see the light of day - band members dropping out due to exhaustion or disenfranchisement with the creative process, Trash having a seizure that allegedly led to developing tone-to-color synethesia, his obsessive, perfectionistic micromanaging of the project, difficulties in financing the record - is officially recorded, mixed, and mastered. The Red Paintings also had an extensive back catalog of EPs to pick from when it came to choosing songs to revisit, rewrite, and re-record for The Revolution is Never Coming
. These songs - highlights include "The Streets Fell Into My Window", "Dead Adults", and "Walls" from the sublime Walls
EP - are a welcome listen in complementing the songs that are exclusive to the record.
Composed of 13 tracks with a run-time of over 75 minutes, this behemoth of a record was mixed by eight producers (including the late Bryan Carlstrom, who worked with Queen, Anthrax, and Alice in Chains, among others) on four continents (Antarctica probably wasn't one of them) and features a 35-piece orchestra and 22-person choir. To add to the splendor, lesser-seen instruments like the theremin and harp are interspersed throughout as well.
All this added together, and we have The Revolution is Never Coming
: an ostentatious and exceedingly grandiose mess of a record that, if it weren't buoyed by moments of artistic acuity, would undoubtedly crumble under the weight of its excess.
For newcomers and long-time The Red Paintings, the record is a scintillating time capsule that documents the band's various imagery, themes, and motifs that they've used over the years. The Far East, the extraterrestrial, a distrust of Big Brother and a distaste for government, promoting social justice and human rights, and a projection of ideas from the darkest recesses of Lewis Carroll's and Dr. Seuss's minds: all are prominently displayed throughout the album.
Considering all who played a role in cultivating The Revolution is Never Coming
, it's obvious as to why there are so many discrepancies in production, engineering, and sound. Rather than a seamless, uniform listen, the disparities in quality can lead to jarring transitions. While it's laudable that Trash strove to ensure that no dead space existed throughout the record, he and his production team overcompensated in songs like "The Fall of Rome" and "Hong Kong" - the album's two longest songs - where the strings, guitars, and drums are all cranked to the proverbial 11, leaving the effect-laden vocals obscured and unclear. For example, "The Fall of Rome"'s middle passage is unequivocally sloppy - the splicing sounds reprehensibly amateur and the instruments disproportionate - which leaves the passage a head-scratching affair. Fortunately, the song improves in its second half; however, the reverse is true for "Hong Kong" and its ludicrous number of false endings (although this might make it an obvious show closer or part of the encore in future set lists).
Album closer "The Revolution is Never Coming" also suffers slightly from some mixing issues and a superfluous coda, but these can be overlooked because of the gusto and ingenious creativity prior to it: the captivating children's choir, the logical sequence between the song's movements, and the oscillating energy between deranged frenzy and tranquil placidity is assuredly awe-inspiring (also, the album's booklet, an amazing 28 pages, chronicles a marvelous story that helps fill in some of the gaps). Remove that last bit of material after the "... for your protection" sample, and the title track is a fantastic narrative with outstanding instrumentation (for the record, the megaphone shouting of, "The revolution is never coming!" is a keen addition to the chaos).
Engineering and production issues aside, it's evident that Trash strove for something majestic and epic with The Revolution is Never Coming
, but the successes are hit-or-miss. The record's bravado is obviously palpable, what with 57 people belonging to the orchestra and choir and all, but the occasions where the band pulls everything together to sound cohesive aren't as frequent as expected. For instance, the horns and strings in "Deleted Romantic" are gorgeous but fleeting as Trash's voice weaves in-and-out of insipid synthesizers that are once again pushed way too high, thereby reducing the track's enjoyment level. The Red Paintings have typically been able to contain the more bombastic and extravagant aspects of their music, but these blunders can contribute to The Revolution is Never Coming
's capricious listenability at times.
While songs like "Dead Children" and "The Fall of Rome" are mired by the erratic production, uneven, deplorable mixing, and/or ridiculously overblown songwriting, some of The Red Paintings' older material benefited from being recapitulated. For example, the retooled songs taken from the previously-mentioned Walls
EP - "Dead Adults", "Walls", and "The Streets Fell into My Window" - have dramatically improved, as each has profited from being revisited and subsequently overhauled. Of the three, it's a push as to which song is augmented most, but "The Streets Fell into My Window" would be my pick: from the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
narration (courtesy of Wayne Jennings) to the ameliorated string section, each instrumental arrangement coalesces into one of the album's best musical scores. Also, Andy Davis' drumming is wholly magnificent, reaching near-fever pitch in intensity without sounding overwrought or domineering.
"The Streets Fell into My Window" is a prime exemplification of how incredible The Revolution is Never Coming
would sound if it were mixed and produced with the same level of care throughout the entire record: each facet of the stunning orchestration resonates clearly, and the songs flow in a satisfyingly cogent manner. When everything fires on all cylinders as it does here, the songs have immediate staying power in the moment and long after listening. Meanwhile, "Dead Adults" (which is vastly superior to the dreadful "Dead Children") sports strings that are more vibrant and animated, and Trash sounds decidedly energized and refreshed vocally compared to the song's earlier version. "Walls" has been my longtime favorite track throughout the band's discography, and the new recording is bolstered even further by the reconstructed, ebullient string section. My only grievance is with the vocals, which sound markedly more lethargic. As a sample, compare and contrast the the chorus' opening lines ("And I don't know / If you're holding on to what you've got / I'm so tired / I'll be holding on to this sweet love") on the 2005 recording with the 2013 version, and Trash's vocals are neither as fervent nor as dynamic in range and timbre on the newer recording as they were on the Walls
As much as I've castigated the record's production and mixing thus far, there are plenty of moments on The Revolution is Never Coming
where the art and science of recording synthesizes harmoniously, resulting in some fantastic individual musical passages and/or astounding, complete-sounding songs. Although I've championed the Walls
tracks earlier, the restored version of "Rain" is the absolute best updated song on The Revolution is Never Coming
. The opening piano lines are brighter and more colorful, and the added synth line, subtle as it is, adds an appreciable flair. Further, the orchestration is significantly rejuvenated, Trash's vocals are smoother and more decipherable, and I quite like the heavier sound affixed to it ("It Is as It Was" receives a similar treatment and is equivalently respectable). I also am quite fond of "You're Not One of Them", which arguably features the best orchestral arrangement on the record. The enchanting strings are skillfully arranged, reverberating gracefully and recognizably throughout, and the bass riff in the song's bridge is a definitive album highlight. Indeed, the production and mixing is noticeably better on the band's newest material, namely "Vampires are Chasing Me" and "Wasps". For an album opener, "Vampires" is a bit slow, although the simple electronic drum patterns are engaging, as if Massive Attack and The Postal Service had a love child. The electronic flourishes are much more pronounced and enticing in the frenetic "Wasps", where the band shows phenomenal restraint in preventing the song from turning into a cacophonous wreck while maintaining its furious, maniacal pace, led by a heavy 65daysofstatic-esque beat. Additionally, The Revolution is Never Coming
features a diverse assemblage of samples, but the segment from M. Night Shyamalan's Signs
provides the song with a prominent identity.
All told, The Revolution is Never Coming
is an aggravating record because of its mercurial production and unstable mixing as well as its turgid personality in spots. As a result, the album lacks a fluid continuity, and while it's noble for Trash and his studio engineers to not have any dead space on the record, the suffocating effect some songs have makes one wonder about the universality and approachability of his musical vision. In some instances, Trash's attempt to extrapolate the colors and sensations he was experiencing during the songwriting and recording process outward is perplexing; I can appreciate that he has built his life around this record and strove to share the same emotions and sensations he experienced throughout this process, but I'm not convinced that we can all vicariously be synethestics from listening to this record and envision the same colors that he did (however, music's gift in general is the power of the subjective experience and how we relate to it, and this album is certainly no exception to this notion). Trash is a strong vocalist and quite the imaginative lyricist; I cannot figure out why his vocals hide so often behind instruments whose levels are set way too high in the mix.
However, there are undeniable moments of brilliance on the record: "You're Not One of Them", "The Streets Fell into My Window" and "Rain" are essential highlights, the instrumental tweaks to "Walls" and "Dead Adults" are superb, and "Wasps" is an emphatically refreshing ball of fury. Some songs have that immediately identifiable staying power, while others ("The Fall of Rome", "Dead Children", "The Revolution is Never Coming", "Hong Kong") either run too long, have an appalling mix, or have undeveloped or incomplete ideas, which makes me wonder why past works like "Pickles", "We Belong in the Sea", "I'll Sell You Suicide", "Mad World", or "Injecting Chemicals into the Eyes of God" - songs that would have unmistakably prospered from a re-recording - couldn't have been revisited in favor of the nonsensical passages on the record, considering how a sizable amount of The Revolution is Never Coming
are re-recordings in the first place. The album has finally arrived after much ballyhoo, and while there are some irrefutable moments of shrewd artistry here, it's also a mystifying record.
Is it disappointing" At times, yes. But I'm so thankful that it will be unveiled to the world soon - to know that dreams are being realized after much adversity and hardship - and I have to commend all involved, past and present, for their perseverance and stamina to see this project through to the end. For that, I say congratulations.
"The Streets Fell into My Window"
"You're Not One of Them"
"The Revolution is Never Coming"
Gig review from April 20th, 2013: