Redd Kross has been a favorite of power pop and garage rock lovers for a long time now. Their mixture of Nuggets meets the Ohio Express combined with a dash of Cheap Trick has lured many an ear over to the band’s funky rock hybrid. Recently, Five Foot Two and Oglio Records have reissued the band’s classic 1987 album Neurotica, with a couple bonus tracks tacked on at the end. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of that “great band” that I’ve read so many people rave over when obtaining this release, but I have to admit that, at least in regard to Neurotica, I just wasn’t won over.
Jeff and Steven McDonald were the masterminds behind the group. The rest of the band was augmented with drummer Roy McDonald and guitarist Robert Hecker. Together, these guys cranked out a lean, buzzing sound throughout the 14 tracks of Neurotica. However, my first taste of the group was actually through their novelty spin-off, the absolutely horrible Tater Totz. In this band, the McDonald brothers turned in bad covers of Yoko Ono tunes (indeed, they had an Ono fixation as their albums always featured her somewhere on the album sleeves), McCartney covers, as well as fringe rock ephemera such as Os Mutantes tunes. The whole sound of the Totz was “loose” at best and a chore to try and listen to without going partially mad.
As Redd Kross, the McDonald’s played the tunes a bit tighter, if no less sillier. With track titles such as “Frosted Flake”, “Janus, Jeanie, and George Harrison”, and “Tatum O’Tot and the Fried Vegetables”, one can quickly get the feeling that this ride is going to be a bit loopy. I just wish the music and melodies were as interesting as the song titles. But it is songs like “Janus, Jeanie, and George Harrison” that make Neurotica kind of a dud. Sounding like the Sonics meet the Banana Splits, the musical stew issued forth sounds as messy as that description. The riffs are no more interesting than early Black Sabbath stompers, and the singing—well, that’s probably the thing I dislike the most. The nasally, whiny vocals add nothing to what should be an exciting kind of song. And lines like “When Jesus Christ Superstar was crucified, the Beatles were still makin’ noise” comes off as stale, pseudo-hip wanking.
Some songs do work in spots, though. “Frosted Flake” is a pretty good rave-up, though it tends to drag a little by the middle of the songs. The acoustic and corny “Love Is You” is the best thing on the album. I wish the guys had done a few more numbers like it on this album, as they definitely had that style down pat. Likewise, “Peach Kelli Pop” is a good stab at the acid bubblegum sound, and the guitars in “McKenzie” sound really cool, even if the rest of the song doesn’t. And I suppose that’s what’s really frustrating about Neurotica is that it could be great, but most of the ideas here seem a little undercooked.
“Tatum O’Tot and the Fried Vegetables” sounds like any number of the more popular hair metal bands that were the rage in ‘87. The best thing going for the song is that it’s under a minute and a half long, but that’s about it. “What They Say” is just godawful, featuring screamed vocals and plenty of loud guitars that neither rock nor make you want to listen beyond a few seconds. And “Gandhi Is Dead (I’m the Cartoon Man)” sums up the best and worst of Neurotica in under four minutes—some decent guitar grooves and good drumming surrounded by some lousy melodies and grating vocals.
The two bonus tracks, “Pink Piece of Peace”, and “It’s the Little Things” aren’t too shabby. “Pink” is a short, fun, punkish like blast of fast rock, while “Little Things” finally comes clean with the purely pop hooks and fun melodies. Too bad the whole album wasn’t like this, else it may have held my attention longer and turned me into a fan. And I did really want to like Neurotica, somewhat because I had read so much great stuff about Redd Kross through the years and didn’t want to feel left out. But it didn’t happen this time around. Diehard fans will probably love this reissue, and some of the curious might get turned onto the semi-sloppiness of it all. But I’d certainly advise most to proceed with caution with this one. Artifact though it may be, I’m not quite sure if Neurotica really needed to be resurrected just yet.
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