Urge Overkill – [Album]

Thursday, 05 May 2011

As of 2010, it had been fifteen years since Urge Overkill last released a studio recording and, by then, the general consensus was that Chicago's most notorious alt-rock band was a creatively spent entity. They hadn't broken up and were still touring (one tour featured a stop at North By Northeast Music Conference in 2007), but Geffen Records had cashed in its chips with the band and no one had come rushing in to fill that void. There was talk of a new album, but nobody really expected one; Urge Overkill had enjoyed a good run (five LPs, one EP and ten singles between 1989 and 1995 alone), but it was over and all that remained were some memories and some faded newsprint.

It was over until it wasn't and Urge Overkill willed itself back into existence. In 2011, the release of the ominously entitled Rock & Roll Submarine was officially announced and people started to get carefully interested in the promise of a rousing return from the group – although no one knew what to expect. UO had conked out at a pretty high point in their careers – so was the plan really to try and pick up just where they left off?

The short answer is no – Rock & Roll Submarine is not a recapturing of Saturation-grade powers, nor is it Exit The Dragon Redux. Those looking for the high-gloss finish (or the poppy hooks) that graced those records will be disappointed, but that doesn't make this album a waste of time; this is a real album, not an exhuming of old pop greatness. From the opening of “Mason/Dixon,” Urge Overkill (manned by Nathan “Nash Kato” Katruud and Eddie “King” Roeser with Mike Hodgkiss and Brian Quast – John “Blackie Onassis” Rowan stayed home) returns as the far more durable and low-fi band it was before all the fanfare and controversy they drew in the mid-Nineties started.

After “Mason/Dixon” asserts where the band is sitting, the title track follows up to cement the deal with Roeser at the helm in both cases. The road-tested and hardened (in a Rolling Stones sort of way) guitar licks fly fast and furiously as the band digs into the vibe they've launched but (wisely) doesn't try for any flash and dazzle boldness. These opening tracks are just solid rock and listeners will find themselves warming up to that, and Kato (a.k.a. “the better of the band's singing voices”) follows suit with “Poison Flower” which, again, aims for (and nails) a solid rock base. There are no heroics, and that actually works in the band's favor because it's all a series of established strengths showing.

With the first third of the record locking all of the variables down tightly, what follows is a really, really solid presentation that doesn't shoot to thrill, but keeps seeking to re-establish the band. On songs like “Little Vice,” “She's My Ride,” “Niteliner” and “Touched to a Cut,” Urge Overkill just plows out the sort of alt-rock/post-punk permutation of The Rolling Stones that they initially drew notice for on Americruiser and the album cuts (but not the singles) from Saturation and Exit The Dragon. Simply said, Rock & Roll Submarine is a no frills affair, but it works pretty well as a working-class effort – fans who actually bought those aforementioned records and weren't just “radio fans” will be delighted to discover that the band hasn't lost too many steps in their swagger after such a long period away from the studio. Roeser proves, for example, that he can still bash out an angrily dismissive, arena-ready rocker when he wants to (“Little Vice,” “End Of Story” and “Niteliner” are all excellent successors to songs like “Jaywalkin'” “Honesty Files,” “Back On Me” and “The Stalker”) and, while his contributions are fewer and uncharacteristically subdued here, Kato's songs add some decent color and shine. All of that makes Rock & Roll Submarine an enjoyable listen, certainly, but not a contrived “back on top” release which makes it even better.

So is Rock & Roll Submarine a valid contribution to Urge Overkill's catalogue? Sure it is – but the key to keep in mind is that this album is the band's first in sixteen years. They'd have been laughed at if they tried to pick up right where they left off with Exit The Dragon; no one old enough to remember would have bought or believed it, and it likely wouldn't have drawn any new fans either. This smaller start – on solid ground that the band knows it can work well – was the right choice for the band to make, and it leaves the field open for them to try and build back up to rock superstardom, if they  choose to try.



Urge Overkill – “Effigy” – Rock & Roll Submarine


Rock & Roll Submarine
comes out on October 10, 2011 via the Urge Overkill Group. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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