Release Date: Aug 7, 2012
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
This isn’t your every-month, crappy reunion record. Yes, Redd Kross’ latest release, Researching the Blues is their first album in 15 years (and their first on Merge Records), and yes, the band has about three decades of history behind them. But after the super-lean album spins to a close, you’re left with the realization that Researching the Blues possesses something that fans could only dream about from a band that hasn’t released new material since 1997.
After Jeff and Steven McDonald reconvened Redd Kross in 2006 (with the late-'80s line-up of guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald), they seemed content to play the occasional festival show or short tour. For Redd Kross fans waiting for more music, it looked like 1997's Show World might be it as far as new albums went. The brothers had a trick up their sleeve, though, and in 2012 they released Researching the Blues, a self-produced album that not only continues their stellar recorded legacy but gives it an electric boost.
While the rest of punk rock was busy trying to shake and forget its childhood, Redd Kross was fully embracing theirs, but not simply because they were children. Just put on Researching the Blues, the band’s first album in 15 years, and you’ll still hear their juvenile sense of romanticism and fascination with American pop culture, especially in songs like “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Meet Frankenstein,” which signal the end of satin-shirt balladry and the return of Black Cat rock and roll. .
Redd KrossResearching The Blues[Merge; 2012]By David Wolfson; August 21, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetRedd Kross has no right to be good in 2012. It’s been 15 years since they last released a full-length, 24 years since the band’s “classic” Neurotica lineup, and 34 years since they played their first gig opening for Black Flag, back when the McDonald brothers were still in middle school. Punk bands aren’t supposed to age well, but punk has been an iffy classifier for Redd Kross for the bulk of their career.
When it comes to researching the history of California power pop band Redd Kross, you’re bound to run into road blocks. At the time of my writing of this piece in early July 2012, their 1990 major label debut, Third Eye, was readily available on iTunes, but that disc’s follow-ups – 1993’s Phaseshifter and 1997’s Show World – were conspicuously absent from the music downloads store. Go to Amazon.com, and you’ll probably see that copies of Phaseshifter are retailing for more than $30.
The brothers McDonald, Steve and Jeff, have been making music together as Redd Kross for 30 years. Their early records were scrappy punk rock that name-checked pop culture icons like Linda Blair and Lita Ford. Researching The Blues is as far away from that early DIY sound as possible. From the opening chords of the title track, it fills the speakers with guitars, harmonies and drums that recall Keith Moon in his prime.
In 2012, the notion of Redd Kross – a guitar band with a dogged devotion to past forms – seems wildly conservative. But these Los Angelenos were once a supremely post-modernist band, backing their knowing, pop-culture-referencing lyrics with music that celebrated manufactured bubblegum pop every bit as much as the LA punk scene whence they came. Think of them as the original hipster heroes.
Released in 1982, Redd Kross' debut record, Born Innocent, was to mall-punk what homo erectus was to modern man. Founded in the suburbs outside of Los Angeles, the band, led by teenage brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, wrote scrappy and bratty three-chord pop songs that betrayed a fascination with B-movie kitsch via references to Charles Manson, The Exorcist actress Linda Blair, and sugar-infused breakfast cereals. According to legend, they even opened for Black Flag at a middle school graduation party.
Today’s post-Our Band Could Be Your Life omniscient musical landscape has brought with it a renewed and diffused interest in the subterranean fruits of the Reagan era, and in particular the cluster of hardcore punk bands assembled around L. A. ’s trailblazing SST Records.
Merge Records have spent the past year or so celebrating some bigger names in indie rock history, reissuing the entire catalogs from both Archers of Loaf and Sugar, not to mention readying a new album from Sugar (and former Hüsker Dü) frontman Bob Mould due out later this year. Exciting as those releases are, Merge has also quietly been championing the more unsung heroes of rock music over the past few years. They reissued material from the likes of Big Dipper and Volcano Suns -- bands that needed a fresh look -- and now they continue that trend by bringing Redd Kross into the fold.
Researching The Blues is the first Redd Kross record in 15 years, but it picks up right where the band left off. This is an achievement in itself, as most members have been involved in other projects during that time, most notably Steven McDonald’s involvement with Beck’s Sea Changes and the hardcore punk supergroup OFF! But through these 10 tracks of fun, straightforward power pop, you would never know that Redd Kross were interested in such a diverse range of music. Sometimes, that’s why Researching The Blues works so well, and other times, that’s why it falls short.
Redd Kross 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/Phaseshifter). 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.
Redd Kross’s 1982 debut album, Born Innocent, ends with a rollicking cover of Charles Manson’s “Cease To Exist,” the song that the Beach Boys reworked into “Never Learn Not To Love” much to Manson’s considerable ire. Following the release of 1997’s Show World Redd Kross appeared to take Manson’s titular instructions to heart: They went on hiatus. Founded by brothers Jeff McDonald and Steven McDonald (currently playing bass for hardcore supergroup OFF!), the band was an odd amalgamation of power-pop melodies, punk stomp, goofy metal grin and garage-rock grit.