Recordings

Listening to Show World, it's sometimes hard to tell if the McDonald brothers are dogged archivists or just pop-culture casualties who can't escape the past. If they played Chicago blues or bebop, it would be easy to mumble about how they're keeping an important tradition alive. But on the surface at least, the '70s still seem to crowd out the present, with KISS in fresh makeup, Built to Spill trying to revive prog-rock, and relative young'uns such as Billy Corgan and Dave Grohl worshiping at the glittery toenails of David Bowie, who graciously accepts their hosannas even as he tries to reinvent himself as a master of drum-and-bass.

But where U2 can dress up like Village People and somehow pass itself off as a hip dance band, Redd Kross has abandoned its ironic edge to barrel full-speed in reverse. No more Linda Blair or Debbie Gibson tributes, no more collaborations with former members of the Runaways or the Partridge Family. Show World is a relatively straight tribute to power-pop ("Vanity Mirror," "Pretty Please Me") and proto-metal ("You Lied Again"), with bubblegum harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rubinoos album. Most of the time it sounds surprisingly good, even if there isn't a note here that won't be familiar to anyone who lived through the '70s or heard a Yellow Pills compilation.

The only time the album is downright cloying, though, is "Secret Life," a piano ballad with strings and timpani that sounds like Eric Carmen long after his peak years with the Raspberries. Show World is as undemanding as rock gets these days, and that's part of its charm--it's a testament to the stubborn durability of disposable pop. It probably won't make a dent in this world, but in the alternate universe where Dwight Twilley is God and the Plimsouls his trusted disciples, it's an absolute smash.

--Keith Moerer

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