Omitting bass lines from pop songs cheats the listener. Bass-driven counterpoint melodies make songs sing and make the singer sound bigger. Bass lines glue the drums harder into the pocket and help choruses find their home. Bassist Steve McDonald, of the terminally underrated Redd Kross, understands this.
Redd Kross is a band that — unbeknownst to most of the public — silently defines post-’70s adolescent angst for the few teens in love with both quick-witted power pop and glitter rock. The Redd Krossers trade on brilliant songwriting that makes irony of much that came before it, while holding steadfast to the zeal as laid forth by its antecedents. Arguably, and at the risk of sounding gauche, Redd Kross was the first post-rock band (and, yes, we use the word “post”). It was also a classic example of a group floundering in the right place at the wrong time.
It’s no wonder, then, that McDonald has taken the White Stripes to task. And said task has inspired many humorless types to crow sacrilege. It’s all in good fun.
In recent weeks, he has been cheekily and hilariously adding much-needed bass lines to individual songs off the White Stripes’ latest disc, White Blood Cells. He’s posted the resulting MP3s one at a time on the Redd Kross Web site (www.reddkross.com).
McDonald dubs the online performance art project Redd Blood Cells. The site even offers a doctored White Blood Cells cover with McDonald mawkishly PhotoShopped in next to Jack and Meg.
McDonald — whose inspired four-string skills are as Beatlesque as they are punk rock — single-handedly makes the White Stripes songs sound better. They come off less fragmentary and sound more finished.
In an excerpt from the Redd Kross site, McDonald explains his idea thusly:
For me, I see this project as an opportunity to conform to an other’s identity while at the same time expressing my individuality as a musician and an artist. Having lived under the banner of Redd Kross for so long, in many ways that band name has become more synonymous with my personal identity than my own last name. Steven from Redd Kross, is a name I find myself answering to nearly as much as my given surname McDonald. This is true I would say for most musicians who have been associated with a known band for an extended period of time. This phenomenon tends to exasperate a young person’s already fragile grip on their ego ... especially a rock musician’s. That is what this performance is for me, an opportunity to be a part of someone else’s group identity ... in this case family even ... It’s beyond fan ... I’m joining the band! This is still very much the White Stripes ... same band just a new take on their latest record ... rather my take on their latest record. I feel I am at the place in my life where I can expand the limits of my own identity without losing touch with myself.
Besides it’s the coolest thing in the world ... I’m playing bass in the White Stripes ... I am Steven White ... that is unless they kick me out.
McDonald goes on to point out that should his “online art project” be discontinued, “the remainder of Redd Blood Cells will be readily available on other less-discriminating sites.” Do yourself a favor and hunt these songs down.
The subtext (pure conjecture, of course!) of McDonald’s written missive is both funny and telling. Complete with self-seriousness and identity switching, the ostensibly lighthearted skewering goes lengths to parrot what others are whispering — both on and off the record — about how White is burning up with ambition and narcissism. (The Seattle Weekly, for one, recently received a call from a rankled White. Seems the candy-striped singer was miffed after unflattering words about his band were written).
The White Stripes apparently have given McDonald their blessing with this doctoring-up of their songs. What else would they do? It’s a huge improvement.
Meanwhile, go find yourself a copy of the Sights’ latest, Got What We Want. (Full disclosure: up-to-the-minute Sights keyboardist Nate Cavalieri is an employee of Metro Times.) The CD is, hands down, the summer record.
The boyish quartet dwells on the sexier side of pop, where Badfinger collides with Kinks, where Redd Kross shacks up with a young Kim Wilde. Songs are spattered with glorious back-ups, searingly reverbed solos and choruses that are simply ephedrine for the ears. You can’t lose with songs that feature singer Eddie Baranek pining lines like “I just want to be like normal … gotta get out now!” and turn around and go “Everyone’s a poet who thinks they know it all.”
The 11 tunes conjure backseat encampments where one might ruminate on lost fights, weed, drinking and finally getting to shag the girl. It’s a sweet-toothed jolt of that much mulled-over future of rock ’n’ roll. All hail the three-minute pop song and all things Kids in America.Brian Smith is the Metro Times music editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org