SKID ROW – Slave to the Grind (1991 Atlantic “clean” and “dirty” versions)
The Skids knew the second album had to kill. The band, always heavier live than the first album implied, also knew the second album had to sound more like they did in concert. And following up a huge hit debut, they also demanded the album be all killer, no filler. Raising the bar and ignoring the record company, the band re-convened and kicked every ass in the room. The result is Slave to the Grind, one of the best hard rock albums of ’91 period.
The first single “Monkey Business”, which is essentially just dirty grooves n’ screams, was about as commercial as the album got. With this as first single, it was clear that Skid Row didn’t care whether they got played on MTV or not. There was nothing glossy or slick about it. It’s still obvious that there’s something special here, and I credit that to two factors: the songwriting talents of Snake Sabo & Rachel Bolan, and the frontman chops of Sebastian Bach. Bach commands this song. It’s not just his vocals. It’s his confidence, his swagger, and his ego shining through.
If “Monkey Business” didn’t scare your little sister, then the second single “Slave to the Grind” definitely did. For the first time, Skid Row jumped straight into the thrash metal deep end. Drummer Rob Affuso had the chops to do it, and it really was a natural step to take. Other bands were getting heavier in 1991 too, but none of them took a turn like this. Skid Row raised the bar for everyone in their field in ’91.
The other singles from the album were technically “ballads”, although the band were eager to point out that none of them were anything like “I Remember You”. They were dark and edgy. The record company execs no doubt shit their pants when they heard the magnificent “Wasted Time”, which I can only describe as epic. It’s an incredible song, and it’s one of the few that Bach had a hand in writing. Baz wrenches all the emotions from his soul and that’s what I hear coming from the speakers. “Quicksand Jesus” and “In A Darkened Room” are only a little less impressive. They share the same kind of mood and sonic landscape. There is really nothing commercial about any of them. They all have headbanging moments and integrity.
Rounding out the album were several very strong deep cuts. “The Threat”, track 3 on the disc, easily could have been a single. In fact Terry David Mulligan of MuchMusic asked Sebastian if it was going to be selected as a future video, so I’m not alone in thinking that. “Psycho Love” is a bangin’ bass groove, laid to waste by Bach’s scorching vocal. “Livin’ on a Chain Gang” is another standout, an angry one about injustice. Then you have slow, landmine-infested blasters like “Mudkicker”, and fast smokers like “Riot Act”. All strong songs. The only one I’m not keen on is “Creepshow”, a jokey tune about the kind of people you’d see on daytime talk shows.
Skid Row knew well ahead of time that some markets would not release an album with a song called “Get the Fuck Out” on it. This fun punk rocker sounds like a Rachel song, but Bach’s attitude nails it. It’s probably a bit of a novelty, but it’s fun. “Fuck you if you can’t take a joke!” says Bach in one line. But it’s OK: if you can’t take the joke, you can buy the version of the album without “Get the Fuck Out”. Earlier pioneers in the clean/dirty dual releases, Skid Row saved the song “Beggars Day” for the Walmart version of the album. (Also sold by Columbia House in Canada.) I think it’s cool that they gave both markets added value with exclusive songs. This song is more traditional metal (perhaps Priest-like) than the rest of the record, but it’s equally strong.
Michael Wagener produced this album with a raw, unpolished finish. But there are backing vocals where you need ’em, and the instruments are clear and in your face. It still sounds heavy today, unlike a lot of other music from the same year. It just seems like everything clicked, and all the factors were in place. Slave to the Grind kicks ass with the best of them.