When Redd Kross released their ‘Researching The Blues‘ album in 2012, it gave fans plenty of reasons to celebrate. Not only did that record break a fifteen year recording hiatus, but it was also the band’s best album since 1990’s ‘Third Eye’. In ‘Stay Away From Downtown’, fans were given the ultimate Redd Kross power pop anthem and on material like ‘Dracula’s Daughters’ and ‘Meet Frankenstein’, the band showed they’d lost none of their love for b-movie schlock or high camp. ‘Researching The Blues’ was a fabulous comeback, indeed…and one of the greatest albums of that year.
Something unexpected happened in 2015 when bassist Steven McDonald was invited to join arty sludge legends Melvins. Given that Redd Kross had started out as a trashy punk band and McDonald had moonlighted with OFF! – a brilliant and uncompromising hardcore punk act featuring ex-Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris – perhaps it shouldn’t have been that unexpected, but it’s probably fair to say few people saw that coming. Steve’s place alongside Melvins mainstays Buzz and Dale led to various gloriously mismatched live shows shared between the two bands and by the time Melvins released ‘Pinkus Abortion Technician’ in 2018, McDonald’s influence within the band could very definitely be felt.
Coming seven years and a few musical detours after ‘Researching The Blues’, 2019’s ‘Beyond The Door’ instantly had a lot to live up to. However, long time fans shouldn’t worry, as it’s full of power pop goodness…along with a few other musical twists. In many ways, it’s a classic Redd Kross long player. Maybe even the classic Redd Kross long player.
The band’s love of all things retro comes through clearly right from the album’s opening notes, since ‘The Party’ begins with a guitar riff that’s heavy on the twang and has a mood not too dissimilar to The Yardbirds’ classic ‘Heart Full of Soul’. As things progress, the guitar work fuses that old sound with tough power pop chops and a hint of Cheap Trick joins sounds that are very close to the bulk of the previous album. Within these two minutes, it’s already clear that Redd Kross are back with a bang, but in time honoured Kross tradition, they drop in a little of the unexpected along the way – and in this case, they aren’t shy in flaunting a chorus harmony that’s perhaps closer to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons than their usual musical touchstones. In a slight change of mood, ‘Fighting’ cranks up the guitars for a shameless glam rock stomper that sounds like the old Alice Cooper band jamming with Slade in 1974. In typical style, the McDonald brothers (Jeff, vocals) and Steve (bass, vocals) fill the arrangement with glammy harmonies, clinging on to the carefree nature of ‘Third Eye’ and their much younger selves. A number with a great vibe from the off, things really peak with the closing hook: with everyone yelling “1-2-3, it’s so exciting” repeatedly, this number is every bit as infectious as the aforementioned ‘Stay Away From Downtown’ and the all-too-knowing ‘Teen Competition [a highlight from 1997’s ‘Show World’].
As the title track begins, a weighty and rhythmic intro gives the only real indication that Melvins’ Dale Crover occupies the drum stool this time around and he uses that power to truly motor the next few minutes, always maintaining a strong presence behind the selection of bratty vocals and great riffs. By the first chorus, it’s clear this has all the makings of a classic, pairing some strong harmonies with rock ‘n’ roll piano fills, a glam rock love that’s less than subtle…and even a cheeky nod to the Sonny Bono composition ‘Needles & Pins'(a). For those who’ve followed Redd Kross since forever – and especially the lovers of their post-1989 work – this has the potential to become a favourite. For those new to the band, it gives a very clear example of their best sound. A further Melvins link can be found on ‘The Party Underground’. A tune featuring a Buzz Osborne contribution, it doesn’t sound much like Redd Kross, but then, it’s nowhere near as close to Melvins as you’d think either! Across these three minutes, the party atmosphere of the opening pair of tracks is resurrected and applied to a beach slacker’s dream. If you ever fancied hearing Redd Kross aping Smash Mouth (and chances are, it’s something you never even considered), this is your chance. With a great arrangement and various power pop melodies jostling with something more loungey, the band sound like they’re in their element. There’s a quirkier approach to the vocal, but this is balanced by more great guitar riffs and a couple of spins is all that’s needed before you end up with a sure fire summer hit lodged in your brain. ‘Beyond The Door’ is full of great material, but this quickly reaches fever pitch in terms of infectiousness. Equally unexpected is the album’s cover tune where the McDonald brothers, Dale Crover and assorted guests put their own slant on Sparks’ early 90s hit ‘When Do I Get To Sing My Way’ which, is…interesting. Stripped of falsetto vocals and loaded with bendy bass riffs and overdriven guitars, it isn’t really recognisable until the chorus hits. Still, if you’re going to cover something, there’s no point in recycling the original and in terms of presenting some good power pop in place of the theatrics, this is great. Hearing Redd Kross really rocking out is always fun and between some spirited vocals, crashy riffs and a great hook, this is thoroughly enjoyable. If it makes people backtrack and check out bits of the Sparks back-catalogue, that’s even better.
From the semi-mechanical ‘There’s No-One Like You’, a track with some superb bass playing and traces of Ben Folds and Weezer lurking beneath the surface, and the spiky ‘Punk II’ – a tune that sounds like Redd Kross meeting Devo and new wave bands like The Fixx’ – ‘Beyond The Door’ is afforded a couple of very strong musical diversions, but neither match the quasi-funky ‘Fantastico Roberto’, a track that goes deep into the Redd Kross universe of imaginary characters and psudo-comic book trashiness. It’s a tune that really works Crover’s drumming skills, locking into a fantastic lead bass, though neither aspect overshadows a brilliant chorus. By the time the tune reaches its mid-point and drops into a semi acoustic bridge, prefacing a 70s blues rock tinged guitar solo, there’s a feeling that Redd Kross have applied most of their influences. It could have been a mess. It should have been a mess…and yet, it’s very cool. In a throwback to the band’s 90s albums, ‘Jone Hoople’ is an instantly lovable power pop workout that’s recognisable as being Redd Kross in about ten seconds. While it certainly plays very safely in terms of overall “typical” Redd Kross sound, it provides a great opportunity to step back and admire this album’s production values. The guitars are cranked to the max; the vocals are full on throughout and there’s a strong wall of sound element – and yet Chris Shaw’s production skills really allow a feeling of being surrounded by the music. Having already worked with Weezer and Soul Asylum, Shaw was a great choice for Redd Kross and the way he’s allowed McDonald’s bass to punch through everything on this particular number gives a very welcome 70s feel. It’s warm, complete and inviting…and in a world where most things are just brickwalled, this step backwards presents a huge step in the right direction.
It seemed unlikely that Redd Kross would match ‘Researching The Blues’ in terms of all round brilliance, but this actually manages that near impossible task. There’s absolutely no filler to be found within the album’s eleven songs – at least three of which are up there with the band’s best. With its mixture of rock, artiness, camp, glitter and almost irresistible cartoonish fun, ‘Beyond The Door’ is a fantastic disc.
[Further reading: Redd Kross – Live at Electric Brixton, London 31/11/17]