A new Redd Kross album is always a cause for celebration. For a band who has been around for 40 years, it may seem strange to outsiders that they’ve only released a handful of “proper” albums, though a slew of EPs, side projects and other ephemera (not to mention incredible live shows) have ensured their legendary status remains intact. Members have come and gone (and returned), but the Redd Kross core remains: brothers Jeff McDonald (vocals, guitar) and Steven McDonald (vocals, bass), who started the band in the late 1970s when they were barely teenagers.
Their last album, 2012’s Researching the Blues, quenched a 15-year thirst for fans who had been waiting for a follow-up to 1997’s Show World. Now it’s seven years later and the band has blessed us once again with Beyond the Door, 34 minutes of Redd Kross being… well, Redd Kross.
But what does that mean for a band who have flirted with a dizzying array of styles? Longtime fans will find comfort and pleasure in Jeff’s husky John Lennon/Sonny Bono vocals, and Steven’s signature bouncy bass style, not to mention a delicious buffet of hooks, bridges and superlative harmonies. The more Redd Kross changes, the more those key elements remain the same, even when the band performs songs they didn’t write themselves.
Beyond the Door opens with an amazing cover of Henry Mancini’s “The Party” (from the movie of the same name), setting a jubilant tone for the rest of the album. “Fighting” feels like a loving acknowledgment of the band’s fanbase (“We do it for you / you’re so inviting”), with shouted choruses and catchy riffs, bringing Cheap Trick’s “Clock Strikes Ten” to mind in its call to action.
Heavy KISS-style drums open the title track, inspired by the 1974 Italian ripoff of The Exorcist (a movie Redd Kross namechecks in their song “Linda Blair”) and including piano flair from former member Gere Fennelly. And that’s another thing about Redd Kross: their musical circle of friends, influences and co-conspirators reaches far and wide.
While Researching the Blues recaptured the band’s lineup circa 1987’s Neurotica (Robert Hecker on guitar/vocals; Roy “no relation” McDonald on drums), Beyond the Door features Jason Shapiro (guitar) and Dale Crover (drums). Shapiro played guitar in L.A.’s legendary glam trash Celebrity Skin while Crover drums for Melvins (a band influenced by Redd Kross that now includes Steven McDonald on bass). The cover art for the album was based on an art installation created by Paul K. of the Imperial Butt Wizards, another infamous L.A. band which included Steve Housden, brother of Janet Housden, who used to be Redd Kross’s drummer. Now you know why getting into Redd Kross is a bit like going down a rabbit hole.
So where was I? Oh yeah, Beyond the Door! While Redd Kross lyrics frequently reference private jokes and hidden meanings, Steven’s beautifully heartfelt “There’s No One Like You” pays lovely, witty tribute to his young son Alfie (with wife Anna Waronker of That Dog). Similarly, Jeff’s “What’s a Boy to Do?,” with gorgeous bejeweled guitar and slowly building chord progressions, talks about the highs and lows of a long-term relationship (Jeff has been married to The Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey since 1993). Even the Steven-penned “The Party Underground” is a straightforward celebration of underground music, where the mainstream is just “herd mentality grazing on a diet of dull normality.”
On the other hand, it’s unclear at this time exactly what “Ice Cream (Strange and Pleasing)” and “Fantástico Roberto” are about, but that doesn’t make the songs any less compelling or catchy. In fact, it’s precisely this kind of opaque quality that gives so many Redd Kross songs such a long shelf life. “Punk II” might feel like a throwaway track, but it benefits from being placed next to the wonderful “Jone Hoople,” another clearly personal song whose subject remains mysterious.
Beyond the Door ends with another Steven McDonald lead vocal, this time a rollicking cover of Sparks’ “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’?” While surface similarities between Sparks and Redd Kross are obvious — L.A. bands with two quirky brothers who’ve achieved cult status over long careers — Steven was also Sparks’ bassist for five years (including their famous 21×21 series of concerts during which they played all of their albums). That makes this cover even more meta and even more sincere.
In the mid-1990s, Redd Kross released an EP called 2,500 Redd Kross Fans Can’t Be Wrong, with the title being an ironic nod to the 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong compilation from 1959. If Facebook likes are anything to go by, Redd Kross’ popularity has only increased since then (29,000 as of this review). But whether they have 2,500 fans or 29,000, Redd Kross remains the greatest American band most people have never heard of, much less heard. Don’t be like “most people.” Join the party underground of Redd Kross fandom. You won’t regret it.
Beyond the Door was released on August 23 by Merge Records.
Leslie Hatton (@theinsolent1) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.