Graded on a Curve:
Redd Kross,
Beyond the Door

Led by siblings Jeff and Steven McDonald, Redd Kross is a byproduct of the original Los Angeles punk scene. Having been through myriad changes and periods of inactivity across the decades since, that they are releasing quality music in 2019 is a circumstance worth celebrating. That is to say, the McDonald’s latest is a beacon of inspired punk-edged pop-rocking, a record brought to fruition with guitarist Jason Shapiro and Melvins drummer Dale Crover (this duo part of the recording process for the first time). A tidy and consistent slab of muscular catchiness, Beyond the Door is out digitally, on CD in a 4-panel digipak, and on black or opaque purple vinyl August 23 through Merge Records of Durham, NC.

Researching the Blues, which marked a return to activity for Redd Kross, was one of 2012’s most pleasant surprises. ‘twas such because the band didn’t exactly cease operations on a high note in the ’90s (though I do rate ’96’s Show World, their third and final album before the long break, as their best of the decade). And let us face it; by 2012 the brothers were frankly getting up there in years, and while this 48-year old doesn’t want to come off as ageist, older folks dishing out shit-hot rock ‘n’ roll is still very much the exception and not the norm.

Crover and Shapiro (who was in ’80s punk-glamsters Celebrity Skin and before that San Fran hardcore act Verbal Abuse) are no spring chickens either. As the McDonalds’ pop-rock elder status intensifies, their ability to deliver lively hard-pop hasn’t diminished, perhaps because they’ve resisted the formulaic, and not only by opening up the recording process to the current live band; it’s made plain in the promo text that Steven is more involved in the songwriting process than ever before.

Opener “The Party” underscores the collective engagement in the process as the track outlines the band’s “total commitment to having the best fucking time we can have while we’re all still here.” This might radiate vibes similar to Urge Overkill in smoking jackets with cigars and brandy snifters, but the band has resisted any impulse to direct the above mission statement into a retro-sophisto-livin’-the-high-life costume trip, and for that, I’m glad.

Instead, they’re dedicated to blending punk rawness, glam boldness, beaucoup hard rock riffs, and pop hookiness, a scenario that extends into “Fighting,” though the thrust here is (appropriately, given the song’s subject) nearer to street rock power-mauling with a healthy dose of vocal sneer. Still, if you know someone who’s into ’80s glam metal the way canines are into fetching sticks, play this for ‘em and watch their lips curl up into a smile.

The title track slows the tempo but intensifies the glam rock angle, throwing it back into a meaty ’70s zone complete with piano courtesy of Geré Fennelly. I dig it, but “There’s No One Like You” really shifts gears into territory that’s hallway between power-pop and singer-songwriter, at least until the full band kicks in for a good steady roaring stretch.

With “Ice Cream (Strange and Pleasing)” the brothers waft some sunshine pop vibes and even hint at bubblegum; in another outfit’s hands, it could be honed into an appealing psych-pop nugget. However, Redd Kross just bear down rhythmically and then top it off by wailing on the guitars, with the solo bursting forth like something out of the book of Mascis.

“Fantástico Roberto” concerns a possibly fictitious character and illuminates how this batch of songs evades the lyrical clichés that frequently hinder melodic rock in a classic style, while “The Party Underground” emphasizes their dedication to the stated ideal of enjoying life, with Crover’s fellow Melvin Buzz Osborne adding extra guitar zing to an already zesty power poppy situation. Longtime Redd Kross cohort Anna Waronker also adds backup singing, as she does to “The Party” and “Fighting.” As has been the case before, vocal harmonies are a crucial but not overdone aspect in the Redd Kross equation.

Impressive thus far, but with the soaring heaviness of “What’s a Boy to Do?” they ramp it up a few notches for the homestretch. The riffy “Punk II” adds some nifty hand-drum flavor into the mix, but the cut is over with quick as it essentially preludes the disc’s standout number, the chunky catchy singalong banger “Jone Hoople.” And just when it seems the track can’t get much better, they dish out a killer instrumental break.

This leads us to “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’,” with Chili Pepper Josh Klinghoffer joining in on lead guitar. Unsurprisingly, the instrumental fortitude is considerable, but it’s also the most passionately sung number in the bunch, wrapping up the album with the sort of oomph that can (and should) serve as a guide for young whippersnappers everywhere.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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