The Red Plastic Buddha – Songs for Mara

Songs for Mara cover art

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There was this man on our beach. He had a pointy head and ridiculously long ears and his skin shone red in the moonlight. Like it wasn’t actually skin. Like he was made of plastic. His body emitted a strange throbbing sound. ‘Hello,’ I said. ‘What’s that noise?’

‘That is “She’s an Alien” by The Red Plastic Buddha,’ he told me. ‘From their new third album “Songs for Mara”.’

‘It sounds awfully muffled,’ I said.

‘One moment,’ he said, lifting a finger and then he parted his robes. I was relieved to see a loudspeaker mounted in his chest. The full force of the song hit me in the face like a euphonic tornado, knocking me over onto the sand. ‘Holy crapola,’ I said, ‘I really like that. I mean, it’s kinda what I expect from The Red Plastic Buddha. Psychedelic rock & roll infused with soul-nourishing pop hooks. A genuine musical force of nature. Ooooooh and there’s an amazing guitar solo there. Not that I believe in soul of course.’

‘Of course,’ said the pointy headed man, stifling a laugh.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked him. I felt a little paranoid. Perhaps it was the music. It was doing funny things to me. A window had appeared on the top floor of my brain. Until that moment I wasn’t even aware that my brain had floors.

‘Help me get this open,’ said the man.

I handed him a coat hanger and he jimmied open the window while “Little White Pills” played. ‘I like this one too,’ I told him, nervously looking back over my shoulder. ‘Great drums and guitar riff there, a bit darker than the last one.’

The window broke and we fell through.

We were back on the beach. ‘Tada!’ I said, trying to be funny.

‘That wasn’t supposed to happen,’ he said. He wasn’t impressed.

“Being Human” started in his chest. An acoustic guitar. I screwed up my eyes. “Some people are good at making money” sang The Red Plastic Buddha. ‘I’m not,’ I told the man. ‘But seriously this song is fucking great. I think it’s one of my favourite RPB songs ever. The production on it is brilliant too.’ We stopped and listened. It was the sort of song that did that to you. Commanded your attention. “I’m not good at being human” sang the magnificent refrain. It was a remarkably poignant moment, a single line that almost all of us can relate to. I had a funny feeling I was going to cry. ‘F-’ I began.

‘Please don’t swear,’ he said.

“Go” began.

‘This one’s probably going to mess with your mind,’ he said with a wry smile.

‘Oh that’s just great,’ I said, wiping my face on my sleeve.

‘Here, have a sandwich,’ he said suddenly. ‘It’ll help with the turbulence.’ So he handed me a sandwich.

The sandwich immediately ate me alive. It was terrifying. Suddenly everything looked like Peter Max had drawn it with felt tip pens and I stared at the sandwich which was back in my hands, apparently having not eaten me at all. I was totally confused. ‘Have you heard of the Super Furry Animals?’ I asked the man with the pointy head.

He shrugged his shoulders and scratched one of his long ears.

‘This one reminds me of them,’ I told him. ‘It’s fu- I mean, I love it. This album is relentlessly good by the way. I imagine those guys poured everything into it. At least twice. If that’s even possible.’

‘Anything is possible,’ said the man as “Staring into the Void” began to play. ‘Actually, this is the one that’s going to mess with your mind,’ he said, ‘that last one was the one you were going to love. Personally I blame the internet. In the old days we had vinyl. I prefer vinyl. It smells like music.’

I looked at him funny. My eyes had sprouted on stalks and my tongue was made of marmalade. “Staring into the Void” was that sort of song. “Things” were emerging from the sea behind me and because they were “things” and my tongue was made of marmalade, I wasn’t best pleased, although it had become impossible to explain this to anyone, even to myself. But then, just when the “things” came crawling up the beach and looked like they were about to consume me, the song whispered in my ear “It’s not over yet”, and thankfully The Red Plastic Buddha launched into Love’s “A House Is Not A Motel”.

‘Phew,’ I said, grabbing at my tongue which had returned to a vague state of tongue. ‘They sound like The Doors here,’ I said to the pointy headed man. Only he was no longer there. ‘Pointy headed man?’ I asked.

“Trip Inside This House” exploded into life. ‘Is this the next logical step for this band?’ I asked the pointy headed man (even though he wasn’t there). ‘It sounds like a product of the early 70′s. “Sunflower Sessions” is 1967. “All Out Revolution” is 1969. Are these guys evolving? Are they going to go disco next, or will they bypass that and go straight to punk?’

‘I’m sorry,’ said the man, ‘did you say something? I had to pop down to the shops, you see.’

‘What for?’ I asked him as “Girlfriend” played. It was Red Plastic Buddha by numbers, dark verses, catchy chorus, and an epic psychedelic crescendo.

‘I wanted to buy you a sandwich,’ he said and he gave me another sandwich. Or maybe it was the same sandwich.

‘Oh fu-’ I said and stopped. We danced for a little while. Suddenly there were a lot more people there. A hammond organ was doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things in the pointy man’s chest. We danced until “Jupiter Gas” came on and then everyone collapsed like their strings had been cut.

The moon plunged behind a cloud.

We weren’t on the beach anymore. We were stepping from a rocket ship across a strange new planet. It was white and crusty, bouncy beneath our space shoes. ‘Who are all these people?’ I asked the pointy headed man.

But he couldn’t reply. His eyes were on stalks and his tongue was made of marmalade. ‘I know that feeling,’ I said. Secretly I couldn’t help but feel like I was beginning to love the more experimental side of this band. Lots of people make sound collages, but framed within the context of a psychedelic rock record, here, segments like “Jupiter Gas” were acted like fillings between slices of

‘Bread,’ I said. ‘This planet is made of bread.’

And as “Cosmonaut” chased and hurtled and wailed and freaked forth and did everything a song of that name should rightly do, I realised, we were standing on the sandwich I was holding on the beach.

‘I should get going,’ I said to everyone, ‘this record is nearly done and I don’t want to be stuck on this sandwich forever.’

Then “Girl Like You” started. ‘Or maybe I’ll hang around for another couple of minutes,’ I said within a matter of moments. Suddenly everyone was dancing again. We were infected by the melody. Only now we were no longer on a sandwich, we were in a club in England back in 1965. I wanted to make a joke about club sandwiches, but I was too busy dancing. ‘I know we’re time travelling, but I think I like this song best of all,’ I said. The sweat was pouring down my face as I pogo’d around the dancefloor, knocking over people like skittles. “Girl Like You” is 60′s psychedelic pop sublimity, lost in time, and conjured up by some songwriting 21st century wizard.

Next thing I knew, I’d caused so much devastation that two burly bouncers had grabbed me under the armpits and were hurling me out onto the street. I landed in the gutter and lay there with the cigarette ends, empty bottles and bits of salad people drop from late night kebabs. I could hear The Red Plastic Buddha back inside the club, stepping out from behind a red velvet curtain to play album closer “Stuck On Zero”. A rock anthem to complete the masterpiece. The last nail to hold the whole thing together. An exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.

I couldn’t believe I was missing it.

‘Well?’ asked the man with the pointy head. He was sitting on the kerb above me with a great big grin stretched across his face. ‘What do you think?’

The sun was coming up. A milk float trundled by. I sat up. I think I had a slice of onion stuck to my cheek and my purple Red Plastic Buddha t-shirt was torn in several places. I must have fallen asleep. ‘I expected it to be great,’ I said finally, with some effort. ‘But I didn’t expect it to be this great. I know how much passion and diligence these guys put into making all these records, but this is somehow streets ahead of what they were doing in 2007… or was it 1967… I forget which. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “Sunflowers Sessions” dearly, but “Songs for Mara” is mature, it takes you on a journey, to the most peculiar places, and I suspect the journey will be different, trippy, and an absolute adventure every time I hear it. But truly, sincerely, I adore it. So thank you.’

‘My pleasure,’ he said, pulling down his shirt and producing a broom. And then he swept me down the road.

* Thanks to Blood Meridian for the video!