Culturally, at least, it’s hard to imagine a worse cultural moment for a Redd Kross comeback. Think about all the strains of underground rock currently running shit — orchestral chamber-pop twinkle, dazed reverb-damaged whoosh, elegant pop-soul groan, muffled post-chillwave thump — and you’ll notice that none of them have the tiniest bit to do with this band’s decades-deep punk-rock shimmy. Even the punk rock that takes up indie-blog pixel-space these days is miles removed from anything this band ever did. That stuff is, for the most part, rickety tantrum-blurt stuff, and Redd Kross co-leader Steve McDonald knows that very well; he’s taking advantage of it by serving as OFF!’s bass player. But even though they played their first show as middle-schooler Black Flag openers, Redd Kross have never had anything to do with that. Their version of punk rock is the kind that they heard as tiny children on KROQ before Cali hardcore was a thing: Strutty, glammy hairflip-rock with supercharged rhythm sections and hooks for days. That’s what they do, and it’s not what anyone else does anymore. And it’s impossible to write off because they’re incredibly fucking good at it. So if Researching The Blues, the band’s first album in 15 years, doesn’t fit cleanly onto anyone’s 2012 playlists, more the better — at least someone is getting it done like this.
The members of Redd Kross, of course, know that they’re a legacy band now; they’re well into middle age, after all. But that status hasn’t altered their sound one iota. They named the album — and its riotous first song — Researching The Blues to make fun of the idea that every old-guy band has to go roots-rock, to tap into some hard-won wisdom. There’s no wisdom to be heard on the album, but there’s craft for days. Researching The Blues gets in and gets out, 10 songs in half an hour, no fat anywhere. They’ve got two speeds: Laser-precise Camaro-rock overdrive and sha-la-la jangle. And every song lands on one side of the divide or the other, more or less. But the amped-up rockers have moments of overwhelming melodic sweetness, and the starry-eyed jams never translate as ballads; they still have pogo tempos and slashing chorus guitars. This is power-pop where the power never, ever gets lost, and where fiery guitar solos are pure necessity. In the time since the last Redd Kross album, bands like Spoon and the New Pornographers have been taking tiny slices of that sound and doing smart and fascinating things with it. But here it is once again, totally undiluted and kicking over sofas like it never left.
There are lots of fun little things going on in this album. Their chorus harmonies are just staggering things, their la-las and whoa-ohs stacking trickily on top of each other amid the pick-slide maelstroms. Jeff McDonald’s voice has managed to reach its mid-40s without acquiring the slightest hint of grit, or losing its traces of snotty teenage whine. There’s a song with “Dracula” in its title immediately succeeded by one with “Frankenstein” in its title. “One Of The Good Ones” has a soul-clap in its rhythm track. But ultimately, the details don’t matter much. What matters is that this band never lets up in its sugar-rush half-hour. Among the 10 songs here, not one is anything less than searingly catchy. The hooks are utterly shameless, like early-’70s bubblegum, and that can’t be an accident. These guys know exactly what they’re doing, and we’re lucky that they’ve decided to do it again. So even if it’s utterly and completely out of step with 2012 indie, Researching The Blues arrives right on time.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Antony And The Johnsons’ orchestral live album Cut The World.
• Niki & The Dove’s witchy Swedish dance-pop excursion Instinct.
• Blonds’ lo-fi oldies-damaged debut The Bad Ones.
• Fergus & Geronimo’s cheeky psych-rock LP Funky Was The State Of Affairs.
• Apache Dropout’s hissing garage-rock goof Bubblegum Graveyard.
• Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang’s relentless African dance full-length En Yah Say.
• Willits + Sakamoto’s impressionistic experimental EP Ancient Future.