3 stars (out of 4)
Brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald were gradeschoolers when they debuted as an opening act for hardcore punk pioneers Black Flag in the ‘70s. Their band, Redd Kross, brought a tongue-in-cheek fascination with kitsch culture and bubblegum pop to their hard-charging if wildly erratic ‘80s albums. They streamlined things on Redd Kross’ 1990 commercial breakthrough, “Third Eye,” and followed with a series of fine, straight-ahead pop-rock albums before taking a break in 1997.
Now 15 years later, the McDonalds have reunited with holdovers from the ‘80s version of Red Kross, guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald, for “Researching the Blues” (Merge). Rather than straining for reinvention or an updated sound, the quartet aims to hone strengths: High-octane melodies delivered with a minimum of fuss or filler. The 10 songs blow past in less than 33 minutes, with robust melodies resolving in arms-wide-open choruses augmented by wordless “sha-la-la” vocal harmonies. Concise guitar solos, giddy-up drum fills, bass lines that often playing thundering counter melodies, and the nasal lead vocals of Jeff McDonald, suggesting a punky John Lennon, make “Stay Away from Downtown,” “Uglier” and the title track irresistible for power-pop connoisseurs.
Beneath the exuberant musicianship lies an earnestness far removed from the younger Redd Kross. The band doesn’t break much ground – if you loved their ‘90s albums, chances are you’ll appreciate this one. But maturity has its own rewards, most especially in the wistfulness they bring to “Dracula’s Daughters.”
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