Brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald started a band in middle school. After changing their name from the Tourists to Red Cross to Redd Kross, they released a string of classic albums like Born Innocent and Neurotica.
After 1997’s Show World, they took an indefinite hiatus, which seemed to be made permanent by then-guitarist Eddie Kurdziel’s death. Steve McDonald went on to play bass for Beck and Sparks before joining punk supergroup OFF!
Redd Kross seemed kind of forgotten, but McDonald and his brother started playing shows again with the classic Neurotica-era lineup — lead guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (no relation). And now they’ve released their first album in 25 years: Researching the Blues.
The new album finds the band completely re-energized. Instead of a half-hearted reunion, Redd Kross sounds better than ever.
The first few tracks show they’ve still got an edge. Jeff McDonald gives a bit of a snarl on the lead single, “Researching the Blues.” He and Hecker come out with guitars blazing on the title track, “Stay Away from Downtown” and “Uglier.”
Eventually, they settle into a rhythm of infectious Beatles hooks. “One of the Good Ones” and “Meet Frankenstein” seriously sound like Revolver b-sides, especially with Jeff McDonald sounding so much like Lennon.
They pick up speed again with “The Nu Temptations,” but even with the California-punk bite, their songs are still deeply embedded with melodies.
Steve McDonald really shines on the final track, “Hazel Eyes.” His bass pushes through the triumphant harmonies to lead the song. There’s a flash of a Nels Cline-style guitar solo, before the rhythm section drives it home.
Researching the Blues doesn’t sound like a reunion album at all. It fits perfectly into the Redd Kross catalog and actually stands out within it.
Researching the Blues is out now on Merge.