Redd 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. They’re more of a power pop/pop-punk hybrid, and on their comeback record, Researching The Blues, this previously-perfected formula is given a welcome update with songs as unapologetically hooky as their best, but mastered to pummel harder than ever.
It’s this mastering job that really separates the album from Redd Kross’ previous releases, because in a musical landscape still plagued by “the loudness war,” where sound quality is often sacrificed for volume, Researching The Blues gets a leg up without sacrificing anything. The guitars shriek, the vocals never struggle to top the squalor of instruments beneath them, and Redd Kross’ rhythm section punches through with a high degree of focus. Nowhere does this work better than on the album’s title track, which features scuzzy power pop guitar licks that erupt during the song’s titular chorus line. As Researching The Blues’ surest ear worm, it opens the record on its highest note, but the remainder has plenty of worthy moments as well. It’s an album that, per Redd Kross’ style, integrates select influences from across the pop spectrum into their surefire signature sound.
Beach Boys comparisons tend to get thrown around for just about any band that can harmonize, but the backing vocals on “Dracula’s Daughters” really do evoke California’s eternal premier surf rockers. “Stay Away From Downtown” features lead vocals from Jeff McDonald that bring to mind Robin Zander, only snottier. Then there’s “One Of The Good Ones,” whose jangling melodies recall any number of jangly British Invasion acts. Researching The Blues is also tied together with the band’s previous efforts by Redd Kross’ continued fascination with cartoon characters, which manifests itself in the lyrics of “Dracula’s Daughters” and “Meet Frankenstein.”
If this album has one major flaw, it’s the absence of ballads. One or two slow-paced acoustic songs used to be a given for the best Redd Kross albums, but on Researching The Blues, those just don’t exist. The closest they come is “Winter Blues,” a chiming number built for the glorification of summer. For an album that barely tops 30 minutes, the ceaselessly quick tempo isn’t too big of a problem though, as it doesn’t go on long enough to get tiring.
In a recent interview with Amoeba, Steven McDonald summed up the intent behind Researching The Blues by stating “all I really, really wanted to do with this record, was to put the songs in the best possible light, and to showcase everybody’s strengths as much as possible. And I think that that’s a timeless goal. And if you’ve achieved it, it’s not gonna be dated and out of touch.” Of course, Researching The Blues isn’t the album to convert non-fans of Redd Kross, but it does manage to tie in with the rest of Redd Kross’ discography without sounding dated or out of touch. Which is what we should want from it, especially coming from a band whose legacy is entrenched in its signature sound as much as Redd Kross’ is.