L-R: Steven McDonald – Bass / Vocals, Jeff McDonald – Vocals / Guitars, Roy McDonald – Drums, Robert Hecker – Guitars/Vocals
photo: Jonathan Krop + John Scarpati
RIYL: Rock ‘n’ roll.
Redd Kross have always been too good, too perfect, too true, to believe. Mythic. Could this tuneful hardcore punk EP really be the work of a brother band with the 15-year-old on vocals and guitar and the 11-year-old on bass? Did Redd Kross really open for Black Flag? Could Jeff and Steve really have been born and raised in the Beach Boys’ hometown of Hawthorne, California, and did Jeff really see the Beatles live in 1966? Did one of them, dressed in Gene Simmons makeup, really kill a Bruce Springsteen impersonator onstage? Is that really their hair? Could Researching the Blues, their first studio album in 15 years, be not just the hottest thing since Cher went solo but the best start-to-finish Redd Kross record ever?
Somehow, the answer to all the above is improbably, wonderfully, beautifully YES. Long have Redd Kross rocked, and long have critics, devoted fans, Rodney Bingenheimer and fellow musicians from Seattle (Nirvana) to New York (Sonic Youth) to Driftwood, Texas (Butthole Surfers) to Hollywood (everybody) bowed before the Kross and their self-aware pre-spandex Glam bubblegum garage psychedelic Cheap Trick/Kiss/Revolver post-Kim Fowley rock and roll. Degenerate, sweet: tongues in cheek, song-long winks.
Commercial success may never have been theirs (if time and space had been aligned correctly, they’d have been blitzing ballrooms in the early ’70s instead of opening for Stone Temple Pilots in the early ’90s), but Redd Kross have endured and endeared because they’ve always had the best possible attitude: smarts, smiles, and total commitment to live hair-spinning showmanship.
Like fellow legendary Great American John Waters, they’ve devoted their career to making subversive entertainment in a high pop celebrity style, reintroducing in their especially golden late ’80s/early-’90s period such forbidden classic-rock tropes as melodies, harmonies, ripping musicianship, and primary colors-stuff that had (largely) been ditched in the underground rock’s post-punk, No Wave, hardcore, and sensitive-egghead scenes. Redd Kross then spent the ’90s making one great misunderstood record after another until enough shit had caked the fan that in 1997 they pretty much called it quits.
But you never quit being brothers. And so here’s the next Redd Kross album-produced and mixed by younger brother Steve earlier this year after it was mostly written by older brother Jeff in 2007-08, and recorded in that same period with the band’s current lineup, who’ve re-engaged in live performance since being lured back into action by an excitable Spanish promoter.
They’re too nice to say so themselves, but attention must be paid to this band, to this great album, Researching the Blues, which, like a pair of great pants, is tight and the perfect length. By the time you’re two minutes and 51 seconds into the second song, “Stay Away From Downtown,” and the band is breaking into the sha-la-las, you will be running around the room with your hands in the air. As the fourth song, the Brian Wilsonian “Dracula’s Daughters,” ends and the dynamic mid-’60s Beatles jingle “Meet Frankenstein” launches into its first chorus, you will be mass-texting all of your friends with the good news. By the final four songs-“The Nu Temptations” (Stooges-worthy riffs! Cowsills counter-harmonies! And more!), the “Surrender”/Noel ‘n’ Liam rockers “Choose to Play” and “Winter Blues,” and the stunning summer psychedelic power pop that is the closing “Hazel Eyes”-you will know the truth. You tried the rest-but now you’ve had the best. The McDonalds were educated at Rock ‘n’ Roll High, and they’ve stayed true to their school. Here’s to their beautiful reunion! Redd Kross Forever!
Music critics and fans agree, Redd Kross is back and delivering their signature brand of genuine rock ‘n roll with a vengeance.
“A purer explication of rock and roll’s essence would’ve required
Founded 34 years ago in Los Angeles during the first wave of LA punk rock by brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald (then respectively 15 and 11 years old), Redd Kross cut their teeth opening for Black Flag at a middle school graduation party. Their debut recordings caught the attention of Rodney Bingenheimer, who quickly became a fan as he spun their Ramones inspired songs like “Annette’s Got The Hits” and “I Hate My School” on the world famous KROQ.
Their following releases maintained roots still firmly planted in punk, but the band started to experiment with different musical elements and band members. Redd Kross boldly broke new ground by intuitively and inventively mixing their eclectic inspirations in song and performance. They understand and embrace the esoteric commonalities between the Partridge Family and the Manson Family; the Beatles and Black Sabbath; The Osmonds and the New York Dolls. The result was a band that was ahead of their time – daringly original, artistic and uncontrived.
“Neurotica was a life changer for me and for a lot of people in the Seattle music community.”
“(Redd Kross) are definitely one of the most important bands in America.”
In 1990 the band released their major label debut, “Third Eye”. Taking their obsession with late 60?s bubblegum am radio to a new level, the song writing matured with more complex arrangements, harmonies and lush production. Redd Kross had their first single chart “Annie’s Gone”(#16 Billboard modern rock), and began to tour with notable artists such as Sonic Youth, The Go-Go’s, The Posies, Jellyfish, The Lemonheads, and the HooDoo Gurus.
Robert Hecker took leave as lead guitarist and the McDonald brothers were joined by Eddie Kurdziel (guitar), Brian Reitzell (drums), and Gere Fennelly (keyboards). They released the critically acclaimed “Phaseshifter” album in 1993 featuring the hit songs “Jimmy’s Fantasy”, “Lady In The Front Row”, and a raucous cover of Frightwig’s “Crazy World”.
Redd Kross toured relentlessly for the next several years, appearing on television sets across America performing on the John Stewart Show (pre Daily Show), Conan O’Brien, and the Tonight Show. The band began working their magic on UK festival stages such as Redding Festival and Finsbury Park, and did a US arena tour with The Stone Temple Pilots and Meat Puppets.
In 1997, Redd Kross released one of their most polished albums, “Show World” featuring the perfectly crafted pop single, “Mess Around”. After supporting the album by touring with Sloan and the Presidents of the United States, the band went on a much needed hiatus. Fans wondered when they would return, and things seemed more uncertain after the untimely passing of guitarist Eddie Kurdziel in 1999.
The McDonald brothers launched www.ReddKross.com and began to reconnect with their fans and make new ones. They experimented with the new medium just as innovatively as they do with their music – Steven McDonald released an online only mashup album called “Redd Blood Cells” by adding bass tracks to the White Stripes album – with Jack White’s consent, and was used by the Creative Commons Organization to explain how the CC license and the internet can unleash artistic creativity and collaboration, Jeff McDonald began podcasting (“Hit It!”) before iPods or podcasts were invented, and also released a web based video series (“Bitchin’ Ass”) far ahead of YouTube.
Redd Kross reissued their classic “Neurotica” album as they worked on a variety of other projects including “Ze Malibu Kids”, “The Steven McDonald Group”, and worked in various capacities with other bands on stage and in the studio such as the Donnas, Turbonegro, Imperial Teen, Anna Waronker, be your own pet, fun., Sparks, Tenacious D, Beck and OFF!
In 2006, Jeff and Steven announced their reunion with the “classic Neurotica” line up – and were joined once again by guitarist Robert Hecker (IT’s OK) and drummer Roy McDonald (the Muffs). Redd Kross have been playing to enthusiastic audiences at sold out select shows and festivals such as the Azkena Festival, Coachella, Dig It Up! (The HooDoo Gurus Invitational), NorthWest Music Fest, CBGB Festival, and Pop Montréal.
“Researching the Blues” is the highly anticipated new album. It is their first new album in 15 years and will be released on Merge Records August 7, 2012.
— Jonathan Krop