Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Red Rockers: “Condition Red” (2023) Vinyl Review

Before the Red Rockers had a mainstream hit with “China” in 1983, they were a punk band, made up of Darren Hill on bass and vocals, John Griffith on vocals and guitar, James Singletary on guitar and vocals, and Patrick Butler Jones on drums and percussion. In 1981, the group released its first LP, Condition Red, on 415 Records. It featured mostly original material, along with one very cool cover. Now the record has been re-issued, and it’s on clear red vinyl and contains three bonus tracks. It also includes a large booklet with photos and extensive liner notes, describing not only the band but a bit about the New Orleans scene at the time. The album has been remastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering, and it features a new mix by the band. Though the band’s hit, “China,” is certainly not a bad tune, every track on this record is better than that song. This reissue is dedicated to Patrick Butler Jones, who died earlier this year.

Side A

A kick-ass beat gets “Guns Of Revolution” started before the guitar tears in. “Scared little rich man/You’d better start running/Guns of revolution.” This song has that delicious energy that is part of the appeal of punk music. “Teenage Underground” also starts with the drums. “I don’t need society/Well, I don’t care what’s right or wrong/I’ve got everything I need.” This song takes us back to those days when we were sure of ourselves, when we knew who we were. The song drives forward with all the energy we had at the time. It’s a fantastic song. That’s followed by “Peer Pressure.” I never really felt any sort of peer pressure when I was growing up, so maybe I was lucky, because I certainly heard about it. There were plenty of drugs around, but no one was pushing it. Anyway, this song rocks, and is driven by anger.

Punk music often has more to say than other genres of music, and this band is not shy about addressing political and social subjects. In “Can You Hear,” they sing, “Now that we’ve broken the silence/It’s time to move on again/And now there’s much more violence/Start all again.” And the song asks, “Can you hear the people?” This song has a very cool bass line. That’s followed by “Grow Up,” which comes on hard and fast. “Everyone around me says it’s time that I grow up/Get a wife, get a job, I say that’s not enough/Well, I’ll stand in line, and I’ll play their game/No matter how old I get, I’m still the same.” Oh yes, this is a song I would have blasted in my teens had I owned this album then. And why didn’t I? I don’t think this one got much airplay in central Massachusetts at the time. Then “Know What I Think” begins with a good drum beat. Interestingly, when the other musicians come in, the beat changes. There is a good amount of attitude and anger to this one, and it’s the one to feature the line, “You die a rocker, you die red.” The line before it also stands out: “You try to kick us in the head.”

The first side wraps up with two bonus tracks. The first is “United We Stand,” which begins like an anthem, “United we stand, divided we fall/United we stand, divided we fall.” Then it kicks in and takes off. That line is delivered again, but now at a faster speed. This song rushes along with a great power. “Everyone looking for a better way/The name of the game is to be yourself.” The second is “Voice Of America,” the song that actually ended up as the flip side to “China” on the single in 1983. I didn’t own the 45, but some folks must have been surprised when they turned that seven-inch over and heard this song. “Voice of America, voice of the free” is shouted almost like a threat. This one also features some good stuff on bass.

Side B

The second side opens with “Dead Heroes.” Interestingly, this song begins with an instrumental nod to “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” before kicking in. It is the first of a few songs on this side that are about fighting and dying for the U.S.A., encouraging “Be a dead hero for the U.S.A.” It’s a powerful song, featuring some great stuff on guitar. “Tell me why/I got to kill/That’s the American way.” Then before end he says he wants no part in that: “I don’t want to go/I don’t want to fight/I don’t want to die.” That’s followed by the album’s only cover, a fun punk rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” The band changes the line to “But I killed some bitch in Reno just to watch her die,” but it sounds like the word “bitch” is clipped, sort of edited. Jello Biafra joins the group on backing vocals on this track, adding to its great appeal.

The album’s title track, “Condition Red,” is another fast-paced number, a song that feels like it could toss your body around the room. “Oh, you can’t run/No, you can’t hide/The walls are closing in.” That’s followed by “Hold On,” a song about feelings of wanting to end it all. “I don’t know if I can hold on/I know there’s something wrong/I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” It’s a heavy number, and I love the way the backing vocals and lead vocals interact. “White Law” is another powerful number, this one about racism and violence. “You don’t know what you’re living for/You don’t know what you’ll die for/You killed a man/It was a white man/You killed a man/You are a black man.” Then in “Live Or Die,” they sing, “Sometimes you know when you’re in trouble/Sometimes you’ve got to get away/You can tell when they’re on to you/Sometimes it pays to run away/Here comes my replacement/I’ve been on watch all night.” This song rocks. This music doesn’t hold back. “Live or die/Gonna fight for my country/Live or die/Gonna fight ‘til I’m free.” The record concludes with a bonus track, “Missing In Action.” As it begins, some of that guitar work seems to be influenced by the Buzzcocks. This one too has to do with fighting for the country. This was the beginning of the Reagan years, after all, and things were getting warped. “Now I work for Uncle Sam/I had to leave a wife at home/God knows she’s all alone/This has never happened to me/I’m in the middle of a shooting spree/And now I’m missing in action/I’m not where I want to be.”

Record Track List

Side A

  1. Guns Of Revolution
  2. Teenage Underground
  3. Peer Pressure
  4. Can You Hear
  5. Grow Up
  6. Know What I Think
  7. United We Stand
  8. Voice Of America

Side B

  1. Dead Heroes
  2. Folsom Prison Blues
  3. Condition Red
  4. Hold On
  5. White Law
  6. Live Or Die
  7. Missing In Action

This special expanded vinyl edition of Condition Red was released on October 20, 2023 through Liberty Spike Recordings.

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