Trenton Van Plummer’s Red sounds like it aimed to be the long-lost Anthony Kiedis solo album that never was. It makes for an amusing what-if scenario, but in the end, it will have you clamouring for your favourite RHCP record instead. Now we all know Kiedis isn’t the most gifted of vocalists but that was hardly ever the point. Plummer undoubtedly shares Kiedis’s laidback drawl although is sadly missing his trademark charisma. What this results in is an inspired, albeit not always successful, series of backing tracks consistently marred by a monotone delivery. It’s basically the Blood Sugar without the Sex Magik.
Now, this isn’t to say that the album is lacking in entertainment value. Oh no, as I said in my review of Victims of the New Math, I have a soft spot for artists that miss the mark, but do so with gusto. Red is one of those albums, for better or worse, you won’t easily forget. That said, you get the sense that Trenton Van Plummer put a lot of effort into the instrumentation. The same cannot be said of his vocal performance. I have nothing against unconventional voices. I’m a huge fan of the late, great Daniel Johnston and I’ll even admit that my singing isn’t for everyone, but what I’m not a fan of is a lacklustre performance. If you are going to sing you have to mean it.
Plummer’s delivery is lazy, stoned and unfortunately inappropriate to the mood he is often trying to convey. The only times that this works well is on “Heart” and “Summertime,” because the music is fittingly lethargic. The same cannot be said of “Triumph” and “Fly.” These songs are begging for high energy, heartfelt emotion! Instead, Plummer sounds like he’s crooning on his couch after one too many bong hits. I understand that this is a stylistic choice and under the right circumstances it would be fitting, but a lot of the songs he’s writing, unfortunately, don’t mesh with the way he sings them.
This is my biggest frustration with Red. On paper, it’s pretty solid but in execution…well that’s another story. Even though the production values have a lo-fi, do-it-yourself scrappiness that I’m often a sucker for, they are also at times aggressively amateurish. For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with using midi-drums but if the songs are groove-based maybe make it a little less obvious. “Triumph” is the most tragic casualty of shoddy mixing and production decisions. The whole song hinges on a horn section that is so annoyingly loud and soulless that it sounds less like a triumph and more like an exercise in flatulence.
Now you’re probably asking, after everything I’ve written, why did I give this a 4? Here’s the thing, the songs themselves aren’t inherently bad but merely sabotaged by their production and singer. “Summertime” is ridiculous, but it’s catchy and hilarious in its aping of mumblecore. Another favourite is “Bare Life” which underneath it all has a dignified beauty to it. I must also commend the bass playing. I don’t know if Plummer is responsible though, as there is mysteriously very little out there about him and this album. Regardless, no matter which song, I always found myself enjoying his democratic and groovy lines. Most of all, Red has an underlying, beating heart to it. Though the vocals, mixing and mastering could have used more love, you can tell that Plummer took better care when it came to writing the songs. Who’s to say if Anthony Kiedis would have done the same?
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Mike Milito