Unlike the famed bands with which it’s shared members—including Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Bad Religion—Redd Kross never quite captured the collective imagination, which is surprising, seeing as how Redd Kross had far more imagination than its L.A. punk peers. After the bratty snarl of 1982’s Born Innocent, the band began to tinker with the trappings of glam, trash culture, and pop worship. The culmination was 1987’s decadent Neurotica, an unsung classic that exerted a strong if subliminal influence on ’90s alt-rock. By the release of 1997’s Show World, Redd Kross had become a footnote to a movement it helped pioneer. With its first album in 15 years, Researching The Blues, all that baggage has been left in the rearview mirror. What’s left is the sound of surging, scrappy garage-pop outfit that may as well have been formed yesterday.
The disc’s title track opens the floodgate, stomping like a transvestite hooker putting out a cigarette with a stacked heel. As raw and gritty as anything the band has ever written, it also features a melodic refinement that joyously scrapes against chunky riffs and venomous sneers. Brothers and founding members Jeff and Steve McDonald have never played or sung so sharply. (Part of that newfound force may come from Steve’s current tenure in Off!, another L.A. punk survival story.) There’s tenderness, too, in the melancholy jangle of “Dracula’s Daughters,” which serves as thrilling counterpoint to the gum-snapping swagger and bloody-knuckled strumming of tracks like “Nu Temptations.”
Researching wanders a little toward its end, especially on “Winter Blues” and “Hazel Eyes,” songs that feel diluted and dull relative to the album’s overall punch. Of the two, “Hazel Eyes” makes the biggest misstep, trying to inject a halfhearted dose of psychedelia at the 11th hour. Granted, Redd Kross has dabbled in psychedelic rock effectively in the past, along with many of the other styles it’s gleefully mashed together. What makes Researching so great, though, is its tight focus. The disc’s best song, the power-pop gem “Stay Away From Downtown,” says it all. “Remember your life was once good / Today you are losing,” Jeff croons amid his chiming, Cheap Trick-esque guitar. For a long time, it would have been entirely safe to write Redd Kross off as a relic. With Researching The Blues, that’s no longer an option.