Redd Kross – Researching the Blues

Their records were always more than deconstructs of an earlier era. Though they may have been infatuated with dreamlike approximations of ‘70s trash culture content through songs like “McKenzie” and “Linda Blair,” it’s the freewheeling hooks and plain ol’ power chord worship that came across.

The McDonald brothers seeded their music with pinball and Kohoutek and Crawler with a Clem Burke backbeat and Runaways spontaneity. I remember once describing  Redd Kross as “the wood-grain essence of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz had their Singing Orchestral Chorus included Alice Cooper! But rather than co-ramp to any antique trends, Researching the Blues is an ornate moment of new toy intensity that uses phraseology and discoloration to its advantage. Like glam-be-damned hot flashes, it’s simply one of this year’s best records, a cacophony of ghostly remains in a holding pattern that may have taken a while to materialize but is more of a full body apparition than any wisp of resurrection.

The record opens with its title track, full of frantic fingered fortitude that recalls the raucous, rockin’ Rugbys’ “You, I” for sheer force and drive. After 15 years, it’s a feral scream, followed by “Stay Away from Downtown,” the magnificent war chant of a career. It’s as “All Right Now” was to Free, or “Sheena” to The Ramones. Most bands never have a signature song that when heard makes you think, “I know that!” “Stay Away from Downtown” is that song, arranged around a hook that never tires and a few “yeah you’s” and “sha-la-la-la’s” thrown in for protein. Boisterously lighthearted and catchy as any breakup nail-biter that received ample airplay in the ‘70s, “Stay Away” has the hilarious fury to make its punch-drunk impression.

Both “Uglier” and “Dracula’s Daughter” build up that “Jackie Blue” stringent scratch and tear – “Uglier” initiates phase-shifting furrows, while “Daughter” is the pithy ballad of the record.

Continuing that monster motif, “Meet Frankenstein” sounds as though it might’ve been used on The Krofft Supershow sung by onetime latter-day Raspberry Scott McCarl! “One of the Good Ones” has pop clobby Tommy Roe drumming and handclaps. The best lyrics belong to “The Nu Temptations,” but instead of being a tribute to an R&B group, it declares, “speak without a clue/ keep on stalking you…” and the line, “create another plan that’s hard to understand.” The idea of better living through chemistry may have devolved into better living through others as a mantra for the “reality TV” generation to become the “nu” temptation.

“Choose to Play”…wait a sec…I’m gonna have to sit up and hum Mancini to clear my mind after “Stay Away from Downtown” before moving on…

Okay! “Choose to Play” has a Don Kirshner/Andy Kim recitation of L. Ron Hubbard epistemology that suggests “you can win but only from within.” Yeah, and there’s a fog upon LA! The record winds up with a Carl Sagan suppository logic on “Winter Blues,” talking about “solar regulated days.” And finally, my second favorite cut, “Hazel Eyes,” a Danelectro head-swirler.

You know how when Klaatu sang about “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” it made sense as a natural progression for a band named Klaatu? But then The Carpenters covered the song and it came across jittery and creepy. All the material on Researching the Blues has a natural ebb-and-flow that makes for a start-to-finish jolt, with relentless pop grandeur, chiming guitars and fluttering, roughhouse drums. Researching the Blues stands as antithetical to the old adage “it’s better to burn out than fade away.” Maybe it’s better to plan your next move and, fifteen years after the fact, put out the best damned record you’ve ever made.

Redd Kross
Researching the Blues