I have to admit that I first heard of the Red House Painters through the film "Excess Baggage," starring Alicia Silverstone and Benicio del Toro as star-crossed lovers of sorts. The Painters' rendition of "All Mixed Up," originally by The Cars, was featured in this film, and I must say that although the film leaves just a little bit to be desired, that the choice of the aforementioned song in certain scenes of the film is phenomenal. . . see the movie, you'll see what I mean, perhaps.
Emily Hope (Silverstone's character in the movie) compels "John Doe" (del Toro's character) to feel oh so "mixed up". . . Anyways, moving on. . . hearing this song was enough to make me pause the credits and see who exactly was this band performing such a hauntingly melancholic and gorgeous version of the Cars' classic. "The Red House Painters," I read. "Hmmm," I said to myself, this sounds like a potentially great band. So the next day I ventured to my friendly neighborhood record store to see what they had to offer for the Red House Painters. I went through the various CD's they had of the band, and purchased "Retrospective," which I thought would be a good introduction to the band. It truly was. (It goes without saying that I also got "Songs for a Blue Guitar," since it does, after all, contain the song "All Mixed Up" which had impacted me so, but since this review is about "Retrospective," I'm going to stick to this album in my review). I read the liner notes, while hearing both disks of this album, and I was enthralled. How could I, such a devoted fan of good and original music (with a penchant for the sad and gloomy and melancholic) have possibly missed this incredible band, I asked myself? I spoke to a friend that evening, after I had spent the entire afternoon indulging in my Red House Painters CD's, and I told her that I had "discovered" this awesome band, entitled the Red House Painters. "Oh, you mean the band who did the song for that Gap commercial?" she replied, much to my dismay (I'm not prone either to "commercial," or "commercialized" music, or to huge retail stores). Regardless, I did not allow this to alter my fascination with this band. They are really phenomenal; sad, gloomy, melancholy, wistful, somber, with an unbelievable talent for transforming the pain suffered in life and in love into song.
"They're like Joy Division without the synthesizers or drum machines, with a bit of Leonard Cohen thrown in," is what I said to my friend who had informed me of their musical Gap appearance. And they are, but with a style entirely all their own. "Retrospective" has not left my CD player. Their rendition of "Shock Me" (a Kiss song) is as shocking as it is beautiful. And "Katy Song," "Summer Dress,"Medicine Bottle," "Michael," and "Mistress" are gorgeous. And the second disk, with demos, outakes, and live performances, is far from disappointing (as such disks tend to be); they only reinforced the fact in my mind that this is one uniquely talented and outstanding band. The tracks "Uncle Joe," "Japanese to English," "Over My Head," and the closing instrumental track, stand out on the second disk. None of the songs on either disk are disappointing, quite the contrary, in fact. . . each song merits another listen, and another, in order to absorb the lovely subtleties of each one. For anyone considering an introduction to the Red House Painters, this is indeed a great place to start. It's not often that a band entrances me so much, and I am more than happy (sad/happy?!) to have discovered the charm that is the Red House Painters, regardless of "Excess Baggage" or a Gap commercial. They have put a voice and music to the pain of the human condition, what we all have suffered at some point or another, and have done so originally, and this is no minor feat. Mopey, melancholic, and mystifying music (how's that for alliteration?!). . . a wonderful contribution to your music collection, especially if you like Joy Division and Leonard Cohen! Sadness can be inspiring, as these guys more than demonstrate in their music. . . perhaps you too might find their gloomy and ruminating music as powerful and gorgeous as I have. And if not, well, no one's asking you to paint your house red! :)