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Friday, February 11, 2011

CD Review: Red - Until We Have Faces

Red - Until We Have Faces
2011 Sony Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



There are two things Skillet and Red have in common with each other: aside from being Christian-based rock bands, both have penetrated the mainstream with a proto punch AOR style, which is either your cup of tea or it isn't. In the case of Red, they've been nominated for two Grammys (in the Rock Gospel category) and as of this writing, their new album Until We Have Faces has debuted at number two on Billboard this week--not to mention number one in many miscellaneous categories. They were also on Conan O'Brien this week and their new single "Feed the Machine" boasts an MP3 spread featuring the imprinted facial outlines of their fans as a mosaic. Not the times of red you normally associate with a band coming up, but in this Red's case, the times are good.

For a band playing in the same agro tough chunk as anyone you'll hear on your local FM rock station, Red is just a hair more interesting. Following their previous two albums End of Silence and Innocence and Instinct, this album is tuned a bit different to adjust with the times. This means Until We Have Faces is their heaviest album to-date--for this ready-safe branch of hard rock, anyway.

If you're an addict of FM rock, then Until We Have Faces is going to be a compulsory pick-up. Christian rockers, it's a given. Michael Barnes has a refined polish to his vocal chops that keeps Red in its zone. The Armstrong brothers keep it on the dime with their electric fuzz and pleasant backing vocals, while drummer Joe Rickard employs the same plodding rhythm sections with a few tapped-out variations on the bass pedal. Yet the main attraction to Red's success is Barnes' gluey outpourings.

Even if a song called "Let it Burn" is antithesis to the lovelorn balladry Red drips into it and even if we've had more than our share of "Wake up!!!" blares and decrees in AOR rock (i.e. "Feed the Machine" and "Faceless"), there is a draw to Red's straightforward punch.

Yes, the string and choral accompaniments spread throughout Until We Have Faces are alluring and they serve Red's music fabulously. The chimes and violin sweeps are especially dramatic on "Buried Beneath," but let's get real. The majority of Red's peers are doing likewise, much as the heavier and more brutal strands of metal are doing. Symphonic metal, folk metal, Goth-black-fugue, power pop, it's a beautiful idea that's been tapped out. Red will only be able to employ this strategm that makes their music sound like a histrionic soundtrack to slo-mo football highlights for so long. Same goes for everyone else.

For now, Red can get away with whatever they want to, because their audience is established and they will pack the joints wherever they play. Their positive attitude is a charm, their focus is the reason the Grammy committee pays them strict attention. After a bit, however, you can only hold the lighter up so long during the dreamy "Not Alone" and you can only nod along with "The Best is Yet to Come," because just about everyone with a tenured rock resume has a song by the same name.

While "Hymn for the Missing" sends this album out on a quiet coda featuring whispered siren vocals, the bottom line is Red has enough time to make a point now that they've corraled a wide-berthed crowd to their creed. If they want to really make an impact, the next album will throw out the FM standard convictions and embrace a hard-nosed snub attack to back their admirable ideals. Of course, that's not the path to the festival circuit and 40-date venue crawls.

Rating: ***

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