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Red Planet We Know How it Goes

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Tuesday, August 31, 2004 @ 1:09 PM


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If I were the folks at indie label Gearhead, I would drop every other band on the roster, put my house of for sale, and put every penny behind Red Planet, as the San Francisco foursome’s new album, We Know How It Goes, is not only one of the best records I’ve scored in a long, long time, but the most catchy, radio friendly, surefire smash hit these ears have been graced with in about a decade. This is the album the Foo Fighters have been trying to make since their debut. This is the comeback album Cheap Trick could have made last year. This is the album The Cars should have released as the follow-up to their 1978 debut. To be sure, this is the best album Red Planet have ever recorded and hasn’t left my stereo since the day it arrived.

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I saw Red Planet in Seattle in 2000 and they closed their set of plucky skinny tie pop-punk with a pair of righteous Van Halen covers, “Panama” and “Unchained,” and tore the place apart. These weren’t nudge-nudge, wink-wink sarcastic versions either -- these were in-your-face, we love Diamond Dave and crew with a passion, crank it to 10 takes on the tunes and proved to me and everyone else in the club that there was more than meets the eye with this band. On albums in the past, they tended to come off like your better than average garage band, infusing punk and pop into their sound, but hardly displaying the kind of power heard live.

We Know How It Goes fuses all of the band’s influences into one tight, perfect package. For one thing, unlike past RP efforts, this one features new wavey synths throughout it, an addition that normally wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing ,and is usually the sign of a sellout, but is more than welcome here. The synths are less Thompson Twins though, and more Sweet “Fox on the Run.” So a song like the punky “Burning Cigarettes” is given a spikey ‘80s touch with the sci-fi keyboards, and a ballad like “Raining” sounds less Ramones circa Rocket To Russia, and more Ramones circa End of the Century.

But don’t let the electronics fool you, this is an ass kickin’ album in every sense of the term. “It Only Takes One” is a slice of pure hard rock heaven, complete with a wall of pulsing guitars courtesy of maestro Chris Dunn (who also produced this platter, so kudos to you Chris, you done did good) and breathy, got-his-eyes-on-you vocals from Jeremy Powers. “Blackout” is another dose of pop candy, filled with enough hooks to catch a trout, while “H.O.P.E.” is so catchy Rodney Bingenheimer will keel over from a heart attack when he gets hold of this. These are the kinda tunes that songwriters hear and say, “Well goddamn, I shoulda written that!” But you didn’t and they did, and that’s why Red Planet is great.

Two songs that perfectly exemplify Red Planet’s ability to intertwine genres are “Venus in Furs” and “Changing Colors.” The former takes every sappy ‘80s ballad a wraps them into one, taking Modern English’s “I’ll Stop the World” and fusing it with Psychedelic Furs, The Fixx, Soft Cell and the rest to create an ultimately rad, bitchin’ near perfect vintage tune. “Changing Colors,” meanwhile, takes a Brian Wilson-inspired wall of vocal harmonies (circa Pet Sounds) and delicately places them on top of a monstrous Brian May-style riff and “We Will Rock You” drum/handclap rhythm. The result is pure fuckin’ genius and one of the most creative burst of pop fury to blindside me this decade.

If you like all the bands I’ve been namedropping (and, likely, a lot of you heshers are cringing by this point), and you only had to buy one album this year, I’d recommend this one. Alongside Big Elf’s equally awesome Hex (another slab of retro rock that easily stands up against its own influences), Red Planet’s We Know How It Goes is as strong as rock gets in 2004. If this album were on a major label, it’d be getting so much airplay and MTV spins, we’d all be sick of it by now. As it stands, we know how it goes in the indie game, this will likely be another forgotten gem that those who are hip to it will proclaim to be “the greatest album you’ve never heard” and those that aren’t will shout, “Fag,” back at them.

And so it goes…

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