If you’ve ever heard anything quite like Red Shadow, then my name is Nikita Khrushchev. Be that as it may, I can think of no other group that intersperses Marxist/Leninist parodies of old rockers with Red Shadow’s brand of frequently bizarre original ditties.
Unfortunately, Better Red, the group’s second album, is as uneven as it is unique. On the plus side, I’d count such tracks as “Mondo Condo,” a musically attractive assault on ripoff condominium builders; “Labor Is Value,” a 50s parody; and the sardonic “Some Drive Cars.” If you can relate to a vocal so sandpapery that Joe Cocker sounds like Paul Simon by comparison, you’ll probably also love “Desperate Characters,” a deftly worded comment on the dangers of everything from paraquat to birth-control pills.
“This Ship Is Sinking” and the anachronistic-sounding “Daddy You’ve Been Played,” on the other hand, fall flat on their witless rhetoric. A relatively subtle lyric, meanwhile, can’t save “Grand Rapids” from one of the most amateurish recorded vocals I’ve ever heard. And while “See Her Energy” offers a well-honed, humorous look at the role of housewives, it’s not nearly musical enough to be played with any regularity.
Whether the album’s considerable high points justify paying for such flaws depends on your own financial condition. If it’s not good, wait for the revolution, after which Red Shadow’s LPs will undoubtedly be subsidized by the state and distributed for free.