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Too Damn Happy

Redd Kross should know that grins don't sell in rock and roll. Plus: The truly agonizing Life of whatever.

Phaseshifter
Redd Kross
This Way Up/Mercury

Since its precocious prepubescent youth in the late 1970s (principals and brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald were 11 and 14 when they started the band), Redd Kross has been in critical contention for the title of Hollywood's coolest band. Part Beatles psychedelia, part Kiss bombast, with a fraction of Sex Pistols abrasion, homogenized into one great pop-grunge sound. With material released on nearly 30 different labels, the brothers McDonald have seen their band journey through indie-label hell. But Phaseshifter, the band's most recent offering and their third effort on a major label, should be the disk that propels them into the mainstream. Emphasis on should.

Opening with the hook-filled "Jimmy's Fantasy," Redd Kross showcases its compositional knack for radio-ready tunes without resorting to rock-and-roll formulae. Here is a band -- more than a decade old -- still young and hungry, but loaded with maturity and polish. Wearing influences from Iggy's Stooges to John Lennon on their sleeves, cuts like "Lady in the Front Row" and "Monolith" pay homage to the rock gods of yesteryear, but manage to mix by-now-stale reference points into a fresh sort of stew.

Filled with memorable guitar lines -- "Ms. Lady Evans" instantly comes to mind -- coupled with lyrics brimming with cultural satire, Phaseshifter offers something other alterna-grunge popsters don't. This music is fun. No sulking Eddie Vedderisms here. The McDonald brothers are not aspiring electric poets of Generation X. Maybe that's why Redd Kross has had trouble breaking out of its cult band status -- happy music doesn't sell.

-- Sam Weller

Redd Kross opens for the Lemonheads 8 p.m. Friday, December 17 at the Tower Theatre, 1201 Westheimer. Tickets are $15 general admission. Call 629-3700 for more info.

River Runs Red
Life of Agony
Roadrunner Records

Sometimes a record crosses the desk that just can't be ignored. You horde the press material, digging for details, call the publicist, beg for an interview, and vow to not miss any opportunity to see the band live.

Records like River Runs Red are much easier to deal with. The press material seems to walk to the trash can of its own accord, the tape buries itself at the bottom of the don't-bother-stack, and you could spend a long evening listing reasons to avoid interacting with whatever sort of cretins produced this mess.

Life of Agony seems to hail from the environs of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the sounds contained on their tape convey all the overwrought angst of the band's name, without any of the potential humor. I suppose it was Soundgarden who most forcefully proposed the modern marriage of punk and metal rock, but even their grin-less stomping deserves better spin-offs than this. River Runs Red is an aggressively stupid, tuneless, plodding exercise in self-lobotomy, and if you occassionally find yourself swaggering along in time, that's not to be confused with any sort of legitimate stimulation.

The Genitorturers, who headline for Life of Agony this week, at least have the good taste to pierce body parts on stage, and that's about the highest recommendation you're gonna get from this source.

--Brad Tyer

Life of Agony opens for Mindfunk and the Genitorturers Saturday, December 18, 7 p.m. at the Asylum, 6134 Airline. Tickets are $10. Call 694-6623 for info.

 
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