Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Redd Kross - Researching The Blues
Researching The Blues is the first new Redd Kross album in fifteen years. The lineup is the same as the one that recorded Neurotica in 1987, brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald, along with guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (no relation). When attempting to evaluate one of these "reunion" albums from bands that have been inactive a decade or longer, I feel I always have to keep my guard up.
I'm not so old that I can't remember my reaction to various 60s acts that reformed during the 1980s. I was contemptuous of them. In my younger mind these bands' best days were well behind them and their reunions were, almost without exception, pointless exercises in nostalgia. So when listening to an album like this I have a constant internal dialog between my younger (more cynical) self and my older (probably not wiser) self. I don't want to sound like the old fool in a record store who in 1987 wasted his breath trying to convince me The Monkees' Pool It! was really worthy of my attention.
It took about two seconds of guitar riffage from the title track of Researching The Blues to melt my defenses completely. I don't care what my younger self would have thought of this album. If the younger me dismissed rock and roll this good because the band hadn't been active for a measly decade and half, I was an idiot. Darn it, Researching The Blues really is worthy of your attention.
The album showcases the high-density amalgam of punk, metal, bubblegum, girl-group pop and psychedelic rock Redd Kross should have become famous for in the 80s and 90s. Every song has a great hook, and the production is pitch perfect, lacking the occasional overly polished, metallic sound of some of their previous albums. The ten songs are among the catchiest of the band's long career, and any one of them could stand proudly along their earlier work.
I feel it would be too cliché at this point in the review to say something along the lines of, "but this is a more mature Redd Kross," so I won't. What I will note is that the overabundance of irony that sometimes characterized Redd Kross' earlier work is almost completely absent from Researching The Blues. There are no tributes to Linda Blair or characters from Planet of the Apes. In place of smirking references to Mackenzie Phillips' copious drug intake is an account on the title track of a desperate phone call from a friend afraid to be left alone with with the temptations that might send her on a permanent vacation. Instead of snotty punk rock put downs like "I Hate My School" is the middle-aged admission that "we're getting uglier everyday" ("Uglier"). True, there's a song called "Dracula's Daughters," so it's not like the McDonald's obsessions with junk culture have been totally abandoned, but if you listen to the lyrics you'll realize the song is a bitter riposte to those who would suck the creativity from others.
That's not to say that Redd Kross has forgotten how to have fun. Far from it, this is one of the most fun sounding albums I've heard in years. Even when the lyrical subject matter is dark, there are hand-claps, "woo-woos" and tasty guitar licks a plenty; it's bubblegum with bite. And the boys haven't gotten so "mature" as to be afraid to dress up in KISS-like makeup and outfits for the video of "Stay Away From Downtown."
The sticker on the cover of the LP promises "10 Brand-New Songs Scientifically Designed To Make Anybody Happy" as well as an MP3 download of the entire album. I am happy to report it delivers on both counts (actually, I didn't use the MP3 code, but there's a card in there and I assume it works). Far from being a tepid rehash of past glories, Researching The Blues may be the best album of Redd Kross' long career. Just go buy it already.