Random-onium: Redd Kross, Chris Isaak, and the “Miami Vice” Soundtrack

Written by Music

This is the first in a series that I call Random-onium!, for lack of a better term. The premise is that I go to a friend’s house and pick a few CDs out of their collection — completely at random– and review them for your reading and listening pleasure.This week, my buddy John was kind enough to allow me access to his collection, making sure to point out in advance that the Natalie Merchant and Bangles CDs belonged to his lady, who thought it would be cool to merge their respective collections soon after she moved in.

“What?” he exclaimed defensively, noticing the expression on my face. I could have said any number of things and laid him out like a punch drunk boxer decades past his prime, but my sly grin and silence said it all. Of course, my insatiable adoration for “the obvious joke” overpowered my restraint and I let loose with a “whip crack” that would have made Michael Winslow proud, for which I paid the ultimate price as John thumped me in the shoulder. Not just my shoulder, though, but the exact spot on my shoulder that hurts like a mother when you knuckle punch it.

After “walking it off,” I promptly closed my eyes and blindly reached into his stack of tracks, pulling out…


Redd Kross, Show World

Great album. Awesome to have the band back among the living, with their Neurotica line-up fully intact. Only problem is I never really dug Neurotica as an album. Guitarist Robert Hecker was always too much of a “pointy head stock” kinda guy for my tastes and, in my opinion, kept the Kross from abandoning the pointless metal flirtations that they’d worn like a borrowed shirt.

Show World, on the other hand, is Redd Kross becoming comfortable in their own skin. Aside from a quick-and-dirty reading of the Quick’s “Pretty Please Me” that would not have sounded out of place on Neurotica (and made it a better record, truth be told), the boys get right down to crafting songs that, for once, put melody and musical variation above the rapid-fire pop culture references that have always been a part of their charm. That’s right, ladies and gents, Redd Kross have matured, and Show World is the sound of a band living up to their potential. Surpassing it, even.

“Mess Around” marries an unabashedly Revolver-era Beatles guitar chime to lyrics that stand as one man’s declaration of monogomy. Having always imagined the song being sung to the woman in his life, and knowing how difficult it can be to go from jumping from bed-to-bed to dedicating yourself to just one person, I’ve always found the song amazingly touching. Finding that special someone who makes you not want to stray…and telling them…fuck, man, that’s beautiful. A strange sentiment to some, I’m sure, but I dig it.

In fact, I had once played this very song for the woman in my life in a heartfelt, but ultimately unsuccessful bid to convince her of my single-minded dedication to “us.” In hindsight, the fact that I had already “messed around” with someone else while we were in what she thought was a committed relationship might have worked against me.

“Secret Life” boasts a string-laden arrangement that perfectly compliments the singer’s desire to leave his past life (and perhaps dark proclivities) behind. In a perfect world, or at least one that used to exist (one where great songs got played on the radio), this would be a song that we’d all take for granted as always being there, woven into the very fabric of that time when great songs got played on the radio, in supermarkets, elevators, Ford Econolines and wood-panel station wagons alike.

“Get Out of Myself” explores one’s battle with temptation (hmm, notice a theme starting to develop?) and, strangely enough, is written by singer Jeff McDonald with wife (and Go-Go’s guitarist) Charlotte Caffey. Musically, it’s an uptempo rocker the band unleashes with effortless aplomb, showing just the right amount of restraint.

For those fearing Show World might be a mellow record, fear not. “One Chord Progression” sports a programmed tamborine that adds just the right amount of structure to a song that otherwise rocks like a mother, with a sticky chorus hook. “Follow The Leader” begins with a kitschy early ’70s noodle-riff, hand claps, and tamborine…hooks you in with lines like “I don’t wanna make decisions anymore because I’m lazy”…then descends (or ascends, depending on how tall you are in your platform shoes) into an all-out guitar-driven freak out.

Of course, much like the almost-as-good Phaseshifter, which had come out a few years prior, Show World fell on mostly deaf ears. The band would later the break up the week I moved to L.A. (only days before I would have seen them for the first time) and guitarist Eddie Kurdzeil would die of a drug overdose days after his first rehearsal with my band. I remember thinking “finally, a guitarist I can work with,” then hearing Rodney Bingenheimer break the news as I drove back from a late night run to Kinko’s to promote our upcoming gig.

Before I start getting misty, I reach into my friend’s stash and pull out another CD:


Chris Isaak, Always Got Tonight

Whenever I see Isaak, I can’t help think that he’s one of the few guys in this world lucky enough to write one perfect song (Lee Mavers is another cat who falls into that category). “Wicked Game,” no matter how many times I’ve heard it over the years, never fails to leave me speechless. Every aspect of the song seems to have been dropped into place with heartfelt precision, not a note or word out of place. Isaak and his band perform it with such ease, completely enveloped in the moment. Most important of all, producer Erik Jacobsen does only as much as he has to. In other words, Phil Spector would have ruined it.

And, thus, Isaak’s career was both made and ruined by the song. Sure, he’ll forever command top dollar on the casino circuit rolling out a heartbreaking rendition of the song night after night, but getting his audience to give his latest material equal attention is a much taller order.

Always Got Tonight came on the heels of Isaak’s foray into television, as star of “The Chris Isaak Show,” wherein the adventures of Chris and his band (with a fictional keyboardist who always reminded me of Booger from “Revenge Of The Nerds”) are the basis for endless hijinx.

In addition to containing the show’s retro-flavored theme tune, “American Boy,” the majority of the album is spent mining the decidedly midtempo territory where “love lost” is the topic du jour. This is best demonstrated by the lovelorn “Life Will Go On” and the wistful, atmospheric “Worked It Out Wrong.” “Notice the Ring,” on the other hand, is a lusty ode to a married woman. Chris, you dog, you. However great any of these songs may be, of course, none of them are “Wicked Game,” and therein lies the double-edged sword that is Isaak’s career.

On that note, I reach in for this week’s third random pick…


Miami Vice Soundtrack (Various Artists)

Upon revisiting this album, my first thought is that never has a minute-and-two-seconds of music done so much for one artist’s career than the “The Miami Vice Theme” did for Jan Hammer.

Now, I’ve never been much for soundtrack albums because, for the most part, they’re really only good for the one song you buy it for, the rest being of the “filler” variety. This soundtrack is pretty solid, though.

In addition to a couple Glenn Frey tunes (“Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City”), you can’t help enjoy the inclusion of Tina Turner’s “Better be Good to Me” and Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight.” Both were used to great effect during the first season of the series, the latter quite memorably, I might add. Who doesn’t see the spinning wheels of Crockett’s Ferrari whenever they hear Collins’ breakthrough hit? Okay, I must admit that I also see that scene where Stewie from Family Guy is trapped in the TV set, but I digress.

The soundtrack ends with three Jan Hammer instrumentals that evoke 1985 in a way few other songs do (“Chase” evokes some of the same elements utilized in the theme song). As a kid, I remember being transfixed by the mix of style and music that Michael Mann utilized to make “Miami Vice” so much more than just another cop show, and bringing Hammer on board to provide music was a stroke of genius.

This ranks as one of the very few soundtrack albums one can enjoy as a whole.