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Redd Kross - Researching the Blues

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Artist: Redd Kross

Album: Researching the Blues

Label: Merge

Review date: Aug. 6, 2012

The brothers McDonald, Jeff and Steve, were the wunderkinds of the Southern California punk scene of the late 1970s and early ’80s. The band’s 1982 debut full-length, Born Innocent, was a caffeinated spasm of adolescent angst and shlock culture, and while rudimentary, the album was both an impressive statement by a band still firmly in its teens and a harbinger of their own brand of power pop still to come.

As the McDonald’s grew as songwriters, they would quickly leave behind the more straightforward punk sound that they came from (although Steve still gets his fix as a member of OFF!) and embraced a hooky, muscular pop that had more in common with mainstream acts like Cheap Trick and Kiss than Black Flag or The Weirdos. Perhaps best exemplified (at least until now) by 1987’s Neurotica, Redd Kross’s sound is an irresistible but somewhat anomalous amalgam of American rock and pop styles, from bubblegum and glam to arena rock and post-British Invasion garage. This sort of cultural scavenging has relegated the band to cult status at best, and while that most likely won’t change with Researching the Blues, Redd Kross’s first album in 15 years, the McDonald’s (with the help of guitarist Robert Hecker and Rory McDonald (no relation), who both appeared on Neurotica) have crafted a nearly flawless album that is a culmination of over 30 years of pop fandom and scholarship.

It would be disingenuous to call Researching the Blues a grower, as it trades in the sort of immediate hooks and melodies that require a minimal amount of effort to enjoy. Yet, with repeated listens the true depth of craft becomes clear, and those hooks just burrow in deeper. "Keep Away from Downtown" has the sort of indelible chorus that makes one slap his or her forehead and wonder, "Why didn’t I think of that?" Dracula’s Daughter” bursts with a sunny Beatles-esque harmonies, while “One of the Good Ones” hints at the sugar-smacked melodies of Kasenetz and Katz. From a production standpoint, Researching the Blues gets just the type of big, bright, anthemic sound it deserves, and while the guitars certainly crunch when they need to, there isn’t an excessive reliance on the thick, chunky production popular in the ’90s one could potentially see Redd Kross falling back on.

As the song "Winter Blues" makes clear, the McDonalds are still California boys who like the sun on their faces, but they’ve travelled a fair distance from their obsession with Linda Blair, Frosted Flakes, and the Brady Bunch. Researching the Blues may be one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012. It’s an increasingly rare thing, almost disarmingly so, to hear such simple yet intelligent pop played on guitars, drums and bass. Perhaps it does take age and experience to get to this level. Whatever the case, it was well worth the wait.

By Nate Knaebel

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