Red Snapper - Our Aim Is To Satisfy - Review
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critics' view

Three years ago London based Red Snapper were at a crossroads. A trio consisting of American expat David Ayres (guitars, programming), Ali Friend (bass) and Richard Thair on drums, their name was generally dropped by a hip but tiny clubland elite aware of their fearsome reputation as a live funk act. "Hip" generally means "skint", but the group were more worried about their recorded output than their lack of money. Guesting as musicians for the likes of Beth Orton and the Chemical Brothers is all very nice, but it means nothing when essential records bearing your name are as rare as club DJs who admit to liking Five Star. Thus, in 1997, Red Snapper decided the recurring mantra of "great live band, but…" was something they had to change.

Almost immediately, things started to go wrong. First, the band's manager quit (for the even more pressure-cooker world of football management). The band had just about recovered from that one - which hardly helped with their financial situation - when Ayres's mother died. Thair endured a traumatic break-up with the mother of his son. And Friend broke a finger playing football - a minor ailment for most of us, but potentially catastrophic for a particularly nimble bassist whose doctor has just told him he might never play again.

If anything positive has come out of such dark times, it's that Red Snapper now funk like the devil is after them, not just the bank manager. With the Friend fingers rebuilt by surgery, Our Aim Is… oozes darkness and tension like dripping blood. In many ways, the album is a mutant sibling of Massive Attack's Mezzanine. There is a startling array of moods, and the only consistent ingredient is funk. But it's a black funk, nothing to do with the increasing tyranny of people "larging it" in bad shoes, and closer to the music's roots as a hard-hitting urban soundtrack.

The opener, Keeping Pigs Together, could be an Ennio Morricone score, savaged by Thair's typically skipping beat; Alaska Street is intriguingly reminiscent of Verdi. But while invoking everybody from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Brian Eno, Red Snapper never lose the flow. You can almost hear the determination, articulated in the title (which actually comes from a photograph of an American restaurant, which advertised "Aiming to Satisfy - today's dish, red snapper!" and made them laugh).

Of the outright funky tracks, the single Some Kind of Kink is sure to generate discussion. Not because of its barrage of blistering beats, but because it samples Rock On by David Essex, once briefly cool but now ridiculed outside a select group of fellow grey perm-wearers. By liberating a scarcely recognisable four seconds of the riff, Red Snapper have produced a quicksilver dancefloor killer. The lyrics (one of two spat out by MC Det) evoke all the trauma of a Mafioso hit: "Behind closed doors, face the floor." Det is similarly vengeful on The Rake, which sounds like a triad interrogation, with a backing of distorted Donald Duck noises.

Red Snapper's humour is as black as their imagery, and this elevates Our Aim Is… beyond mere horror-show. The stomper track The Rough and the Quick, featuring LA soul singer (and, weirdly, sometime wrestler) Karime Kendra, is terrifically lewd or an expression of female sexuality, depending on how you take it. "I want the kind of life I read about/you know, the one you find on the top shelf," she sings, before expanding in explicit detail. It's typical of Red Snapper's own perversity, but also sad that their most commercial cut yet won't get near the radio.

Kendra grapples with Massive-style soul on Shellback. I Stole Your Car is an almost-Specials skank, but with moments of sublime ambient beauty. Belladonna relocates Eno's Another Green World to a breakbeat era. By the closing They're Hanging Me Tonight, they're creating futuristic music for a Japanese state funeral.

Red Snapper have certainly stretched themselves (inside and outside the studio), but they should, at last, be satisfied. The darkness in their grooves is indelibly etched with the exhilaration of release, making this dark concoction a joy to hear. Red Snapper? Great live band - but you should hear the record.

Dave Simpson
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