To wit, you won't score any hipster points by noticing that album opener "Robinson Crusoe" kicks off with a guitar riff inspired (to put it mildly) by T. Rex's "Bang a Gong." Nor will you seem like a rock genius when you point out that "Thank You" feels a hell of a lot like Bowie's "Young Americans" or that "Build a Bridge" rips off the Faces or that "Hung Up on a Feeling" is a dead ringer for the leitmotif on side two of the Beatles' Abbey Road or that "Rock & Roll" echoes the 1964-era version of the same band or that the epic, squalling guitar and plinging piano at the end of "Back Together" mimics Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?"
And then there's the acoustic anti-war lament "Glory of War," in which you can debate yourself silly trying to decide whether the singer is channeling Bob Dylan directly or channeling him secondhand through a Robyn Hitchcock filter. (Either way, the singer ends up sounding like Hitchcock.)
If that sort of thing bothers you, if you demand that a band sound "original," then don't bother with the Redwalls. Go see Mr. Bungle or Godspeed You Black Emperor or something. On the other hand, if you just like good, old-fashioned, 1971-vintage rock and roll -- strong songs, excellent harmonies, and sing-along choruses -- then by all means come down and meet one of your new favorite bands.
Put Pitchforkmedia.com in the hater category. Citing what he saw as the band's lack of originality both musically and lyrically, a reviewer at the influential, indie-monitoring Web site gave the band a 3.6 out of 10, one of the lowest scores of the year on the site. (I think he was just upset that the band didn't rip off hip old bands such as Wire and XTC, like everybody else.) Though bassist and singer Justin Baren -- reached while his band was in New York for a two-night stand at that city's Mercury Lounge -- hadn't read that review, he has perused others of its ilk. "I always said I wanted the right people to hate us," he says. "We got our wish."
What kind of people are the right kind? "Trendy bullshit assholes who think they're cool," he says. "Like one of the music snob guys. We just write really good rock and roll music, you know, or at least we try to."
Among those who believe that the Redwalls write really good music are Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who hand-picked the Redwalls to open shows for them on their most recent UK tour. "They're really, really good guys," Baren says of the oft-maligned Gallagher brothers. "Really nice. You hear all that shit in the press about how they're mean, how they're cocks, but they're really not. They watched our show every night -- they were just really cool, man."
Other than the obvious shared musical affinities, the Redwalls have something else in common with Oasis: brothers in the band. Justin Baren's brother, Logan, is the lead singer and plays guitar. (Singer-guitarist Andrew Langer and drummer Ben Greeno round out the lineup.) Langer and the Barens started playing together as a cover band called the Pages in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield about four years ago, when each member was still in high school. (The original drummer dropped out of the band to attend college -- it's a safe bet he's kicking himself now as he pores over his sociology textbook.)
The band's first few shows were post-headlining gigs -- the members would ask a club if they could play classic rock and soul covers after the big guns had gone quiet. These shows -- which usually began around 1 a.m. -- were well-received enough to force a name change. The Pages handle was already taken by the band that achieved infamy as Mr. Mister.
Now, about that new name. Don't get it twisted -- the band is not named in honor of Brian Jacques' books for children. Baren gets a little upset at the misconception. "People keep asking that, and I didn't even know about that fuckin' book," he says of the first installment in the Redwall series. "Is it about a fuckin' mouse? Actually, our name comes from a Bob Dylan song called 'The Walls of Red Wing.' We couldn't be the Redwings" -- as all you NHL fans know, Detroit has a hockey team by that name -- "so we chose the Redwalls."
Eventually, the band cobbled together enough original material, time and money to go into a local college's studio and record its debut album, Universal Blues (which, by the way, also includes a Beatlesque cover of ZZ Top's "Balinese"). And to hear Baren tell it, a deal with Capitol simply fell out of the sky right after the album was finished. "I don't really know how that all went down," he says. "We were making our first record, and before it was even done, people [in the music business] were starting to get it from friends of ours. It started getting passed around, and before we knew it, we were signed to Capitol."
The label teamed the band with producer Rob Schnapf, whose credits include Beck, the Vines and the late Beatles fanatic Elliott Smith, and who came armed with retro gimmicks by the crate -- George Martinesque string flourishes, Thin White Duke-era Bowie saxophones, Hammond organs. Some bands have all the luck: Once the album was in the can and the band started touring, the big gigs fell into place as easily as the Capitol deal. First Keane and then Oasis tabbed the band as an opening act, and last month, in its hometown, in front of tens of thousands, the group kicked off the shenanigans at the revitalized Lollapalooza.
And now -- with the senior-most guy in the band all of 22 years old-- the Redwalls are on their first headlining tour. "It's a lot more work than any of us thought it was gonna be," Baren admits of the interviews and hoop-jumping that go with success. "We all thought it was just going to be about having fun, getting laid and playing music, and it isn't. But we're young, and now's the time to do it. We're getting in our rhythm, so it's all good."
Indeed it is, so long as you're not a trendy bullshit asshole.