The Red Hot Valentines
In 1993 Tony Victory said he was doing it for the kids we scoffed a bit. After all, we were the kids (even if I was in my twenties), and we never asked for Earth Crisis, much less the dozens of macho bands that followed. Today The Red Hot Valentines are doing it for the kids, and again I scoff. This time not because I didn't ask for this, but because the band really is making music for kids. Not for me and the other "kids" who are still in the scene, but for honest- to-goodness youth. The Red Hot Valentines, and the Polyvinyl marketing machine behind them, are singing to a demographic I couldn't even imagine just five years ago. Tweeners in punk rock? Oh, you say, but this isn't punk rock. Yeah, I know.
Before I start making enemies, let me say there is absolutely nothing wrong with The Red Hot Valentines' new CD. In fact, for a release entitled Summer Fling, the album is nearly perfect. Easy pop choruses sit effortlessly between endearingly angsty verses. Rock and roll guitar solos grow out of bridges strummed on acoustic guitars, and all give way to a swelling synthesizer responsible for the return of the song's melody. The three sweetly blended male voices combine to create playful backing vocals or full rounded leads. The songs are immediately catchy, and, depending on your bent, it may or may not be so pleasant to spend the rest of the day with the songs stuck in your head. Finally, CD packaging made to look like a school notebook of doodles and professed love completes the summer fling concept. This is one slick album by one slick band.
Without a doubt, there is only one thing that could stand in the way of this band's global domination: the critics. We pesky, self- professed purveyors of taste are sure to douse The Red Hot Valentines, and I'm here to tell you that when you add water to this much sugar, everything dissolves.
Summer Fling's targeted teeny audience is too young to remember bubble-gum pop explosions of the past, and, as always, that crowd will be captivated by the accessibility of the latest offering. However, the rest of us know that this has all been done before as recently as Reggie and the Full Effect, but also by Rick Springfield, The Bay City Rollers and so many before them. The songs have quick snaps, expected guitar solos, play-by-numbers Moog accents, and guitar rev-ups leading into choruses so saccharine as to be barely palatable. For my generation this could have been the soundtrack to a chase scene in Last American Virgin where someone is going to finally catch his dream girl, or the dance scene in Valley Girl where punks with mohawks skip and dance like Belinda Carlisle, or Duckie sitting in his room after Andie walks away with the wrong guy. Are you with me thirty-something brothers and sisters?
However, while each of the above moments means something to me and is firmly implanted with a musical memory, I refuse to accept The Red Hot Valentines as an equal to even the most obvious tune found in the Fast Times at Ridgemont High Soundtrack. The Red Hot Valentines just don't do it well enough. Each song is about the girl that he'll never get, the girl that he's going to get, or the girl that he's lost. While truly gifted song-crafters may reveal here-to-fore unknown nuances to this age-old concern or at least describe the dance in interesting language, The Red Hot Valentines simply spells it out in 10th grade English prose. There just isn't a metaphor to be found on the album. Instead we find rhyming couplets like "Oh Christine, don't be mean."
If you're willing to by-pass your deridional bent, you'll find the choruses to "Pocket Full of Secrets" and "Wishful Thinking" are incredibly catchy. And if the refrain of "All You Get" doesn't snare you, then just make sure you don't get caught playing air guitar to the solo. It just wouldn't be dignified to be seen enjoying the syrupy sweetness of The Red Hot Valentines, this is, after all, for the kids.