By the time they released Neurotica in 1987, Redd Kross had already been around in one form or another for almost a decade, working their way through punk rock and landing on a sound that melded the aggression of punk, the power of metal, the sticky-sweet sounds of bubblegum, and the stomping silliness of glam. Add a voracious appetite for pop culture to this already volatile mixture, and the results were unlike anything else going at the time. This record was their first shot at the big time, and they went for it in a big way. With production by former Ramone Tommy Erdelyi and the backing of what seemed at the time like a decent label -- Big Time -- the album is a sparkling, thundering, supercharged thing that starts off in the red and barely lets up. Pairing the riffs of guitarist Jeff McDonald and Robert Hecker, the rumbling bass of Steven McDonald, and the rock-solid drums of Roy McDonald, the band come across like a youthful collision of Kiss and Cheap Trick with a couple of punk brats on vocals singing about the L.A. scene, tragic TV stars, trashy movies, drug-blitzed rockers, and George Harrison. The songs charge by in a giddy rush, daring the listener to pick out the best parts. Is it Jeff McDonald's cheerfully sneering vocals, Robert Hecker's lightning-fast solos, the snarky lyrics, or the blinding energy with which they all play? When they do slow things down a bit, it verges on the campy (Hecker's acoustic trifle "Love Is You," which sounds lifted from the soundtrack of a sun-dappled teen sexploitation movie), but sometimes the little bit of calm also allows the melodies to bloom. The set's catchiest song, "Peach Kelli Pop," benefits from a dynamic arrangement that struts powerfully in the verses and comes down to a breathy whisper in the chorus. "Ballad of a Love Doll," too, leans more in the direction of bubblegum and features a piercingly hooky guitar line that pairs nicely with the soaring vocal harmonies. Redd Kross are a little less interesting when they throw restraint to the wind and dedicate themselves to peeling the paint off the walls, like on "What They Say." The somewhat tinny production is more noticeable here; it would take a little longer for the sound of the band's records to match their ambition. That minor quibble aside, Neurotica is a fun and frolicsome debut album, and there's no doubt that Redd Kross' hard/soft, hooky/grungy approach proved influential to many groups who went on to become much more commercially successful than they ever were. These lucky bands may have made more money, but very few made albums better than this.
by Tim Sendra