Set to Repeat: Rainbow Rock Sugar
Power pop veterans Redd Kross are back from a 15-year hiatus, and wow—the wait was worth it. Researching the Blues, their seventh studio release, is a dandelion-light effusion of sudsy glam and uplifting rock. Since a fair outing in the ’97 LP Show World, brothers Steve and Jeff McDonald, the definite green gummy nucleus of the operation, have re-emerged with a pert, joyous and all-too-brief song set guaranteed to make you flip on your media player’s replay button.
Sounding somewhere between Cheap Trick’s legendary frontman, Robin Zander, and perhaps a less-aloof Liam Gallagher, Jeff’s self-effacing vocals are often humorous, bratty and yes, even cute. Guitars blossom with olfactory richness and tambourines rattle like playthings. This is unabashedly late ’70s feathered-hair music: Think teenybopper acts like Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy or more serious tunesmiths like Shoes or The Raspberries. Even when Redd Kross attempt to “have an edge,” as with the gutsy namesake opener, “Researching the Blues,” or the quarrelsome sheen of “The Nu Temptations,” it’s all an artful pose—the appearance of toughness, the swagger but none of the bite. Not unlike candied macho men Sweet or Slade before them, Jeff and Steve’s crew have mastered the art of faux tough.
But don’t let their lightweight conventions fool you. This is absolutely top-shelf songwriting. “Stay Away from Downtown” plays like an ingenious one-track distillation of ’70s arena rock. Its stair-stepping guitars throttle with such brusque vitality, and Jeff’s airs as a benign teenage ruffian are so pitch-perfect, the effect is one of rock ‘n’ roll déjà vu: “This is too good for me not to have heard it before.”
The fun continues in “Meet Frankenstein,” a two-minute ball of energy assuming the lone beat and thick-fuzzed guitars of The Beatles’ iconic “Birthday,” only to ricochet into a dreamy, many-splendored chorus of its own. “One of the Good Ones” also shines brightly—with its sticky, fun-in-the-sun guitars and spunky flower power hand claps, it sounds like the kind of joyous throwaway fodder you’d hear overdubbing a Scooby-Doo chase scene. Then there’s the no-reservations shimmer of the album’s closer, “Hazel Eyes,” a shambolic playground braying with incidentals and carnival bombast. Repeat, repeat.
The bubblegum freight train slows down for “Dracula’s Daughter,” a Vaselined carousel of harmonized “oohs” and “aahs,” while in perhaps the best song on the album, “Choose to Play,” we’re treated not only to Redd Kross at their Cheap Trickiest, but a warm life lesson on never giving up. “You can win, but only from within,” Jeff assures, amid a swirl of guitars dusted in rainbow rock sugar. Thanks for pumping me up, Redd Kross. You’re my Tony Robbins.