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Redd Kross: Redd Kross Album Review

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Redd Kross provides a thorough immersion in the McDonalds’ multi-dimensional sound world, giving equal airtime to sleazy rockers (“Stunt Queen”), glamtastic power ballads (“The Witches Stand”), and jaunty pop numbers that sound like the theme song to some saucy late-’60s British sex farce (“The Shaman’s Disappearing Robe”). While the White Album framework may suggest an anarchic, free-ranging pastiche, Redd Kross aren’t radically reinventing themselves here: Listening to the record feels more like rifling through a cherished collection of classic 45s. Recorded in collaboration with ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (who produces and plays drums for a recuperating Crover here), Redd Kross is a hit parade that perpetually walks the tightrope between the McDonalds’ pristine melodic craft and their innate garage-band insolence.

Even when limiting themselves to pop-single proportions, Redd Kross can traverse entire universes. A rare duet between the brothers, “The Main Attraction,” begins as an existential acoustic lament before hotwiring their voices together and using their natural harmonic power to launch the song into space. If Redd Kross are the definition of a cult act, then “Good Times Propaganda Band” is their indoctrination theme, a tiki-lounge psych-pop excursion that suddenly drifts into KISS pyrotechnics. And in just over two minutes, the softcore porn-inspired “Emanuelle Insane” uses a backward loop of Redd Kross’ 1981 circle-pit standard “Annette’s Got the Hits” to forge an unholy alliance between groovy ’60s sitar-psych and brooding ’80s post-punk.

But Redd Kross is ultimately a testament to what one song refers to as the “Simple Magic”: “Three sacred chords,” Jeff sings, “Their power shouldn’t be ignored!” And so the McDonalds spend the bulk of Redd Kross kicking out the jangly jams with the effortless expediency of the Beatles if they cut their teeth in the late-’70s L.A. hardcore scene. (AI technology will do no better job of recreating the voice of John Lennon than Jeff McDonald does on the rousing “What’s In It for You?”) But Redd Kross spikes the McDonalds’ well-worn cheeky attitude with a healthy dose of sincere gratitude, particularly on the album’s closing autobiographical anthem “Born Innocent.” An origin-story myth set to windmilling Pete Townshend riffs, the song suggests that if the brothers aren’t satisfied with the documentary and memoir, they already have the anchor track for a Redd Kross jukebox musical.

“Born Innocent” is, of course, named after Redd Kross’ 1982 debut, an ironically titled document of corrupted youth that opened with a song about a former child star busted for cocaine possession. As the Born Innocent documentary illustrates, the McDonalds have endured a lot of crazy shit that could irreparably break less sanguine spirits, from a 13-year-old Steve being abducted by a woman nearly twice his age, to Jeff’s substance abuse in the ’80s, to their band’s chronic commercial misfortune. But on Redd Kross, the McDonalds are still very much those Hawthorne kids getting their minds blown with each flip on the turntable, forever gazing at the Paul McCartney and Paul Stanley posters in their bedrooms and dreaming of one day hanging alongside them. “We are all born innocent,” the McDonalds declare in unison, and after nearly a half-century of making music together, they’ve magically managed to stay that way.

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