Music Reviews
Researching The Blues

Redd Kross Researching The Blues

(Merge) Rating - 6/10

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.

The titular opener and its follow up, Stay Away From Downtown set the bar quite high. The lyrics are never quite as sharp as on the highlights that filled Neurotica, which featured the same lineup as this incarnation. With Neurotica, sharp, literate lyrics and musical experience offered a look at the world that made them stand out from their peers. Today, they aim to capture the nostalgia of the band’s younger days, successfully mixing the fun with the frightening but failing to capture any powerful images. It’s a band that is clearly looking to have a good time, but trading wit for fun. Still, much of what made Redd Kross special was their position in the underground, a position that, today, feels anachronistic at best, as the internet and disintegration of Top 40 has placed indie and punk into a more recognizable position. It doesn’t make Robert Hecker’s riffs less effective or the brothers McDonald less clever, but it does make them less unique.

Luckily, some the hooks are among the best the band has ever written, particularly on the opening pair, and guitars sear with a perfect mix of Los Angeles punk and southern power pop. The ballads, or the closest thing Researching The Blues has to a ballad in Dracula’s Daughter and the last two tracks, see Jeff McDonald singing with a good mix of youth and wisdom, suggesting the experience that a man who started the band 35 years ago should have but never denying the optimism that they originally brought to a rebellious and pessimistic genre, though not finding the lyrics that will put Jeff McDonald’s voice in the foreground, relying on mood to pick up after average lyricism.

The middle of Researching The Blues slogs a bit, as the riffs begin to lose their punch, the choruses lose their sing-along nature, and effortlessness begins to feel like boredom and a lack of adventurism. The album’s brevity (at just 32 minutes) makes this section pass before you notice, as the quality begins to even out on the last few, first by losing similarities in tone, but the album is over before it can stabilize again. Each listen makes it easier to distinguish the inspired songs from the bored ones, the latter of which usually feature less prominent bass and a turn from later-era Descendents energy attitude to more predictable, controlled works. Luckily, each listen also takes nothing away from the best hooks, and the rhythm section’s tightness and complexity sneaks up on you if you give it a chance.

Researching The Blues is an example of a heartfelt reunion, but less so an inspired one. Chemistry is never in short supply, but the 10 songs never feel like an Album so much as it does a collection of songs, more like productive jams from a group of middle-aged friends unwinding or celebrating than actually adding any kind of blues to their songwriting chops. Redd Kross have harkened back to their old days, but their voice has lost its individuality. With so many other bands putting out fun, reminiscent material, another band doing the same without anything new to add seems unnecessary. Redd Kross do it well, and in that sense it stands out, but they have also done it better, more daringly and more distinctly.