UGLY KID JOE – Menace to Sobriety (1995 Polygram)
Let me tell ya folks, this album ain’t bad. Ugly Kid Joe made it hard to take them seriously sometimes, but on their second full-length Menace to Sobriety, they did what most jokey bands eventually do: Get serious. Get heavy. With former Wrathchild America drummer Shannon Larkin replacing original member Mark Davis, perhaps this was inevitable. If not, co-producer GGGarth made it inevitable.
The first single “Tomorrow’s World” was dark-edged modern metal. No jokes, no wit, just Whit, givin’ ‘er at top lung. The album would pretty much follow suit. It felt like they got one side of their personalities out of their systems for the moment and wanted to do something a little more true to the heart.
An instrumental intro just called “Intro” gets a couple heavy riffs out of way in short order. The new drummer’s thick presence is felt immediately. This intro jumps right into “God”, a heavy wade through the mosh pit, spilling hooks all over the floor in violent celebration. Whitfield Crane sounds more menacing, but he’s still obviously the charismatic frontman. Cool wah-wah inflected solo too, which was one of the only ways you could make guitar solos work in 1995.
When “Tomorrow’s World” first hits, it’s with a beat and a rolling bass line, perfectly on brand for the 90s. After the quietly tense opening verses, Whit and the band rip it wide open with another ferocious riff and chorus. It’s well within Black Sabbath’s backyard (U.S. campus), while keeping a foot in 90s. A perfect mix of integrities.
Tempos get faster on “Clover”, with Whit taking his throat even further. The riffs are still the foundation, this one a little bit Priest-like. If the lyrics to “God” were a little on the nose at times, they’re more interesting in light of this one from “Clover”. “I was tempted, but the apple made me stronger.” Whitfield then screams that he’s here to free us. There’s more going on here than a guy who just hates “everything about you”.
The funky side returns on the speedy “C.U.S.T.” (“Can’t You See Them”). Whit speed-raps through the impressive verses while the band jams hard underneath, wah-wah now back center stage. Great tune and in fact better than some of the competition’s songs in this genre at the same time. There’s a killer, clever percussion break in the middle that differentiates Ugly Kid Joe from the bands who were leading the pack.
“Milkman’s Son” was the single, an electric ballad and rightfully chosen. It’s not soft, there’s a tasty jagged riff to keep it cool, but this is clearly the one that fills the part of prior Ugly Kid Joe hits such as “Busy Bee”. Great tune, if a bit doomed.
The grind of a bass groove returns on “Suckerpath”, which seems about to about avoiding the ego and big head of rock stardom. “Never goin’ down a suckerpath, baby,” insists Whit. Unlike a lot of the tunes on Menace to Sobriety, “Suckerpath” never really explodes with power the way they have so far. It remains in this wallowing groove, which rocks but never quite satisfies.
Another ballad: “Cloudy Skies” has the kind of twang where you could called it “Western Skies”. Still electric; no acoustic softness to be found, but quite excellent. Crane seems to have tapped into something heartfelt here, and his singing is excellent. Sticking to tunes with broad appeal, “Jesus Rode A Harley” is one of the most straight ahead and upbeat tracks on the album.
There’s an AC/DC vibe to the opening of “10/10” but then it goes pure grunge groove. Suitably dark, impressively heavy, and utilizing tricks like conga and slide. There’s a direction on this album and “10/10” is right down the middle. Not an outstanding track overall but one you can headbang along to quite easily. At the end, Whit tries to go full metal scream and does pretty good. This actually leads pretty well into the Priestly vibes on “V.I.P.”. Priest circa Hell Bent, with a touch of Halford’s Fight. The lead vocals are Jon Oliva from Savatage to a tee, whether intentional or not.
Finally, the jokey side emerges on “Oompa”, which is exactly what you think it is. A heavy metal version of the Oompa Loopma song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And why not? Green Jelly were having hits with this kind of song. It’s only two minutes long and hey…it’s Ugly Kid Joe. And just misdirection. That’s not how the album’s supposed to end.
After long last, the acoustic guitars come out on the tender closer “Candle Song”. There’s more than a hint of western twang, but if you wanted a traditional hard rock ballad closer, here you go. “Candle Song” is excellent way to take the listener down after such intensely heavy rocking.
The band isn’t entirely done with their sense of humour. Open up the booklet and you will find a rental house bill for damages including a food fight. Total cost: $12,896.81.
UGLY KID JOE – “Milkman’s Son” / “Tomorrow’s World” (1995 Mercury CD single)
This single seems kind of like a double header between “Milkman’s Son” and “Tomorrow’s World” which was the music video getting all the play on MuchMusic at the time. Two of the best tracks from the album, they are a terrific one-two punch for this CD single.
The bonus tracks are quite cool. There’s a 1994 version of “God”, which is structurally the same but rougher sounding. Amazing how close to the final mark it was. Then there’s a really rough demo of “C.U.S.T.” but still very close to its final form. Hearing these somewhat flatter sounding early versions after listening to the album is really interesting, since it is so consistently pounding, especially in the bass.
Great single for bonus material and a good score if you can find one.