It’s not entirely at odds that Third Man — a label that has existed to showcase the works of Jack White, bring home to the power pop of Brendan Benson, and explore the underground to the degree that Timmy’s Organism once found its way onto the racks — should eventually bring back the work of Redd Kross. While the name doesn’t filter into fashion as much as it should these days, the band was instrumental in smashing together punk, metal and power pop into a nexus of grunge that would linger long into the DNA of radio hits that would eclipse the band several times over. Redd Kross’ sense of humor was only rivaled by their knack for pop and over the course of a long and rocky tenure they created some true classic records. Growing out of the L.A. punk scene when they were still in high school, the band’s McDonald brothers would play with members of Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, and Black Flag before settling into their early lineup and smashing boundaries with their debut EP and the elastic approach of Neurotica. Sadly the latter was stalled in its reach when their label, Big Time, folded. The setback held the band’s name in contract to a grounded business and the band spent the next five years in limbo recording psych-pop under various names with members of Three O’ Clock, Pat Smear. Cherrie Currie, and Danny Bonnaduce (though not all at the same time).
The Third Man reissues focus on the time period just following this relative upset. The band would gain control of the name and reset themselves as they signed to Mercury. They stripped back a bit of the eclecticism that had made their early work fun and focused on the heavier side of their sound for Phaseshifter. While longtime fans might have missed the paisley pop experiments, what made them infectious remained in tact. Power pop stood at the crux of their sound and they’d embraced the hardcore heat long before others around them would do the same to find a foothold at radio. This album should have been a hitmaker, yet it found them relatively settled into the middle of the pack in popularity. The follow-up Show World takes the a similar approach, but gives a bit more of a glimpse into their magnetic pull towards plastic fun.
The album starts with a thickened and throttled cover of The Quick, embracing the light-delivery, heavy guitars approach to power pop that made it potent towards the end of the ‘70s. The band oscillates between the thick pop pedigree that fellow undersung act Sloan was soaking up around the same time in ’97 with a shiny new batch of hooks ready for radio. Still the band never quite stuck the way they should, but a few good years on Merge seemed a better fit and this latest round of respect for their mid-period work gives folks the hindsight to get back into what they missed. Definitely worth a spin or three to brighten up the turntable these days as the originals were released during the prime CD-only years and they never got a US release on vinyl. Pick ‘em up and work your way through the catalog of the champions of pop that shoulda been.