have returned. A short history lesson: in ’81 they were snotty punks (Born Innocent
), by ‘87 they were flower punks (Neurotica
), and they became glam-rock power-poppers when the ‘90s hit (Third Eye
). Brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald have been the band’s only permanent members, but the Neurotica
lineup has reunited for Researching the Blues
, the quartet’s first album in 15 years.
If there’s a consistent thread that runs through Redd Kross’ many phases, it’s their propensity for bubblegum hooks and harmonized “oohs” and “ahhs.” This pop sensibility is bolstered by hard rock glitz, as Redd Kross crank their amps and stomp on pedals. The band evokes a louder version of the Beatles (not to mention Jeff McDonald’s voice sounds exactly like John Lennon’s).
The punchy opening chords of “Researching the Blues” prove that despite their growing age, the McDonald brothers haven’t lost their prowess and can still rock unabashedly. The next track, “Stay Away From Downtown”, follows with Hüsker Dü-inspired speed-riffs and the album’s catchiest chorus. “You better stay away from downtown, yeah yeah,” warns Jeff McDonald. Is this an anthem for 5 o’clock traffic?
At its best, Researching the Blues is a thrilling reunion record, but, like most Redd Kross albums, the tracklist isn’t flawless. “Dracula’s Daughters” and “Meet Frankenstein” float by without memorable moments or melodies; “One of the Good Ones” relies on an oft-recycled song structure, as does “Choose to Play”. They aren’t bad songs, only unremarkable ones. The album’s compressed sound quality hampers some tracks, as well. Delectable sing-a-longs like “The Nu Temptations” are crushed by bad production: There’s no depth or separation between the lead vocals, background vocals, and lead guitar (strangely enough, Neurotica, released in 1987, also suffered from tin-can production).
Researching the Blues peters out after a strong start, though this is fitting of Redd Kross, a band that has always been so close to success—critical, commercial, or otherwise. A couple more radio-friendly hits, and the McDonald Bros. would’ve been household names back in the ‘90s. While it’s still a worthy comeback for a band way past its prime, Researching the Blues is similarly only a few solid tracks away from greatness.
Essential Tracks: “Researching the Blues”, “Stay Away From Downtown”