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Album review: Redd Kross, 'Researching the Blues'

January 01, 2013|By Randall Roberts
(Merge Records )

It’s odd to think of Los Angeles punk band Redd Kross as a legacy act, considering its bassist Steven McDonald learned his instrument at age 11, shortly before he and older brother Jeff, 15, opened for Black Flag in the early ’80s. But more than three decades later, here they are, delivering the kind of fuzzed-out melodies and explosive girl-group harmonies that at their 1980s prime propelled them to near-stardom.

Equally strange is the notion that the band, which has returned from a 15-year hiatus with a new studio album, wouldn’t be as well known to indie kids in 2012 as peers Sonic Youth, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Dinosaur Jr. are, considering that at Redd Kross’ popular peak they were as acclaimed as any of them. Their glam-punk classic “Neurotica” fed Beatle-esque joy and punk energy through proto-grunge fuzz-boxes, and their cover of the Shangri-Las’ hit “Heaven Only Knows” filtered the Ramones’ NYC pop-punk through the light of the California sun. Had not the brothers made the crucial, and, in hindsight, career-destroying decision to commit to Atlantic Records in the post-Nirvana signing frenzy, Redd Kross might have been huge.

GRAPHIC: Times music staff best of 2012 list

Their new album, “Researching the Blues,” offers ample evidence that it’s not too late. The record features 10 urgent, insistent rock ’n’ roll gems, and only occasionally reveals any hint of musical crow’s-feet or outdated outfits of rock ’n’ roll elder statesmen.

As on their classic work, “Researching the Blues” focuses on melodies and harmonies. The infectious hand-clap-and-maraca-driven “One of the Good Ones” features a primal Bo Diddley rhythm that makes it feel eternal. “Stay Away From Downtown” is as furious a rock song as anything coming out of the fledgling hard-core punk revival — and might prompt those Angelenos headed east on Sunset toward Chinatown to think twice.

Steven is also the bassist of the hard-core band Off!, which is fronted by Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, but unlike that project, Redd Kross on “Researching” isn’t betting on pure aggression. Rather, like a mature furniture designer reimagining a chair in ways that only experienced eyes can, on “Researching the Blues” the band’s handiwork makes the simple beauty of pop rock appear fresh and new.

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Redd Kross

"Researching the Blues"

(Merge)

Three stars 

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