Ah, yes, redheads. What is it about them that commands such enduring fascination in our culture? Perhaps it’s the rarity of natural red hair which occurs in such a small percentage of the overall world population. Or perhaps there’s something about the color itself. But whatever it may be, throughout the ages redheaded folk have been surrounded by stereotypes both positive and negative.
Positive stereotypes include having bold and passionate personalities naturally geared for success. Negative ones include having bad tempers and being oversexed (though that might be considered a positive stereotype for some). Redheads have even been subject to beliefs bordering on all-out science fiction such as having originated from aliens or being doomed for extinction due to climate change.
Considering how some of these cultural perceptions have bordered on fantasy and sci-fi, it’s no wonder that redheads have also been the object of such fascination in comics, given the degree to which comics have always reflected cultural values and perceptions. Whether it’s the growing popularity of characters like the Avengers’ Black Widow or the enduring appeal of ones like the X-Men’s Jean Grey, there’s no question that redheads in comics, especially female ones (’cause let’s be honest, how fascinating do you find Banshee?), are surrounded by an aura of mystery and charisma.
In her new album The Redhead League, Leslie Hudson, herself a redhead, explores this cultural fascination for redheads in a—sorry, I gotta say it—fiery new concept album in which each of the eleven songs contained within is either about a specific red-haired female character or about red-haired female characters in comics overall.
Wanna know if your favorite redhead is included in the ranks? Well, let’s see, we have here Scarlett (from G.I. Joe), Poison Ivy, April O’Neil (from TMNT), Red Sonja, Teela, Mary Jane Watson, Jean Grey (in Dark Phoenix form), Black Widow and Medusa from the Inhumans. And whereas the more obvious thing to do would have been to name each song after the character it’s about, Hudson has instead titled these songs thematically.
No mere surface-level geek tributes are these. Hudson seeks to get under the skin of these characters, probe their fictitious souls and, through the raw power of her music, to make them flesh-and-blood, to honor them with real human angst. And the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Ever think that the back story of Teela from Masters of the Universe could actually be poignant? Neither did I, but in Hudson’s capable hands it becomes so, a melodic Coldplay-esque piano rock number (“Troublemaker”) that brings the character alive in a way I didn’t even think possible given that… well, given that this is the He-Man universe we’re talking about. In “Entanglement,” Medusa’s semi-incestuous relationship with Black Bolt of The Inhumans throbs with a palpable passion and intensity that elevates these two’s romance to something on a par with Odysseus and Penelope—in other words, one for the ages:
Love of my life with a voice that could bring down a mountain
I am your wife for the ages beyond human counting
If a man with your power can choose to be still
I will listen, make it my mission to speak for you
Even a song about April O’Neil and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“Underground”) sounds like a disguised political anthem celebrating the rise of a new movement (while listening, I couldn’t help but think of the Bernie Sanders campaign and how so many young people have become galvanized to get involved in the political process). And for anyone in need of an empowerment anthem to get through a grueling workout or to recover from a bad breakup, the ass-kicking “I Have a Name” (based on the excellent Gail Simone-penned Red Sonja story, Queen of Plagues) does not disappoint:
Think you’re strong?
Think you’re brave?
I just crawled
Out of my grave
I’ve been marked
I’ve been shamed
But I will not
You will not
Hear me cry
You will bleed
You will die
If you’re in the gym while listening to this one you’ll have to exercise a little restraint to keep from beating your chest and shouting out, “I have a name: Red Sonja! Red Sonja!”
A shared motif running through these songs and their varying themes is the often thin line between “good” and “bad,” between hero and villain, something that seems to be a thematic preoccupation for Hudson in her work in general. It’s as if this motif is the axis linking these different characters, who exist in different comic universes, to each other across multi-dimensional space and time.
Another very special quality about this album, especially for those who, like me, are big fans of FAWM (February Album Writing Month), each song has Hudson collaborating with one of FAWM’s all-star musicians: Peter Watkinson (Abomnium), Valerie Cox, Tom Spademan, ZeCoop (John Cooperider), Eric Distad, Carlos Parra, Paul Hudson (Dragon Dreams), Kristian Børresen and Chris Miroslaw.
I mean, it’s like the FAWM dream team in here! And a close listen reveals that Hudson knew exactly what she was doing when she asked these artists to collaborate on the specific songs that she did. Each artist is perfect for the song they’ve contributed to, adding their own genre specialties—blues, metal, alt-rock, synth pop and others—to give each song a unique flavor, making the album a truly eclectic offering. So enjoyable and addictive was each track upon my first listen that by its end I was torn between letting the album continue forward or replaying the song that had just finished.
These collaborations makes The Redhead League, on top of already being a great album, a living testament to the dazzlingly collaborative environment of FAWM. By no means do average listeners have to be familiar with FAWM or these artists to enjoy this album, but if you are it just makes these songs all the more thrilling to sit through as you discover what each of Hudson’s collaborators brings to the table.
In short, if you’re a fan of comic books, redheads, geek music, or FAWM (or, as in my case, all of the above) you would do well to pick up this album and let yourself, as the chorus to “Entanglement” invites, “come and be tangled in long red hair.”