First, Redd Kross returns after a fifteen year studio hiatus with the best album of their career (Researching the Blues), and a week later the pride of Zion, Illinois tops that by ending an eighteen-year drought with a new release that’s as compelling as anything they’ve ever recorded. With all three founding members (John Murphy, Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe) joined by their longtime stage drummer John Richardson, the band has self-produced an album that measure up favorably to their 1970s classic, Black Vinyl Shoes. The new productions are more spacious than the crowded 4-tracks of the group’s early years, but the refinements only serve to amplify the best aspects of the band’s hook-laden power-pop. Their words have matured, but their voices remain youthful, their melodies uplifting and their harmonies effervescent.
Having originally foreshadowed the DIY movement by a couple of decades, it’s no surprise that the band’s kept pace with evolving technology. Recorded in Gary Klebe’s basement studio, the productions deftly layer guitars (including gorgeous runs of 12-string) and voices on top of sharp rhythm tracks, adding piano, keyboards and handclaps here and there. As the band’s sound has grown, they’ve also expanded their musical and lyrical reach. The Stones-y rock of “Hot Mess” is gutsier than the group’s more polite pop, and the usual teenage angst has matured with deeper issues of middle age. This isn’t to suggest that they can’t still conjure the pain of dashed romance, because they can and do with the eternal quandary of “Head vs. Heart,” wounded satisfaction of “The Joke’s on You,” and the sweet support of “Wrong Idea.”
But these are no longer lovesick 20-year-olds; they’re grownups with perspective brought into focus by departed friends (“Out of Round”) and infidelity at an age where comfort can trump truth. Many of the songs, including “Maybe Now,” “Sign of Life” and “Where Will it End” read as both revelation and wisdom, marking songwriters who’ve held onto the immediacy of adolescence as they’ve accumulated the pragmatism born of experience. There are nuances to the relationships that typically elude the wounded hearts of younger writers, and Gary Klebe’s “Nobody to Blame” drops the finger-pointing altogether. All three principals write and sing lead, and there isn’t a favorite between them – each contributes equally to an album that shows a band that’s fused the winsome musical passion of youth with the depth of adulthood. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]