Ugly Kid Joe have returned with Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, their first full-length album since the very underrated 1996 release entitled Motel California. After that album failed to match the success of UKJ‘s previous releases and with some internal fighting going down, the band split up in 1997. Now after a long hiatus, the band regrouped in 2010 and followed up the reunion with multiple European tours and the 2012 release of the Stairway to Hell EP. If you have not heard either of the previously mentioned releases, something tells me your music collection is missing a couple of classics.
Besides what I have already mentioned, I am not going to go into a history of the band because, well, that’s what the internet is for, AND, you should be ashamed of yourselves for not already being solid Ugly Kid Joe fans. Instead of the UKJ history lesson, I thought I would give you an overview of the new album.
Let me start off by saying that this IS and IS NOT the typical Ugly Kid Joe album. What I mean by that is, they still bring their bit of silliness to the game, hence the badass yet silly album cover. Our favorite little deviant returns, this time looking like he truly did go down the “Stairway to Hell“. Also, still here are the insanely good metal riffs and funk metal grooves. Did I mention that voice? Is Whitfield Crane not one of the most underrated vocalists out there? I think so. What seems to be different on this album is songwriting. I truly believe that these guys have just written the most honest and from the heart lyrics of their career. Having fanboy’ed for a minute, let’s get into the album shall we?
In what is probably one of the biggest departure’s of the band’s signature sound, the track “Hell Ain’t Hard to Find” opens the album. At first I was not too sure about this song. I cannot help but acknowledge that a small element of this track reminds me of a certain Foo Fighters song. “Learn to Fly“, anyone? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a rip-off by any means. It’s just a line in the song but, it just may take you a few listens to be able to not think about that while listening to the song. I don’t know, you listen and be the judge. That being stated and now having lived with this album for about 2 months (yep, I got it early thanks to PledgeMusic), I have to say that this has slowly become one of my favorite Ugly Kid Joe songs. From here we move on to “Let The Record Play”. The lyrics “don’t even try to reminisce..never were a hit, we are a total miss..” and “so out of tune, in the wrong key..never in time, never wanted to be” only reassure you that these guys are still on their own path and still don’t give a shit about what’s mainstream. What needs to be said about “Bad Seed” besides, what a fucking riff! With the team of Klaus Eichstadt, Sonny Mayo, and Dave Fortman on guitars, this album has zero shortage in the riff department. Not to mention monster grooves laid out by bassist Cordell Crockett, drummers Zac Morris and the one and only Shannon Larkin. “Mirror of the Man” is probably one the deepest songs of the bands career. That sounds funny to say out loud doesn’t it? A deep UKJ song. That is exactly what this one is though and it won’t be the last on this album. Stay tuned. “She’s Already Gone”, welcome to the modern day UKJ sound. Melodic but crushing riffs and blazing solos. I can only hope that this track is officially released as a single because it would kill on the radio. Enter DEEP track number 2 “Nothing Ever Changes”. As I said earlier, the songwriting on this album is leaps and bounds over any previous UKJ release. Hey guys, throw this one out to radio as well will ya? Just for me at least?
Ok, from here the album’s trio of aforementioned guitarists are joined by Motorhead riff master Phil Campbell for the next 3 tracks. One thing I love about UKJ is that never they are never one’s to forget their influences. Whitfield Crane is regularly seen sporting the classic “Snaggletooth” Motorhead shirt and always brings his Bon Scott-ish vocal style to the table complimenting Klaus‘ Angus Young style riffs. That being said, “My Old Man” and “Under the Bottom” are about the most straight ahead classic sounding rock n’ roll songs of the band’s catalog. The latter of which takes a turn into the classic metal genre with an insanely good breakdown. Like I said, no shortage of badass riffs on this album.
The third and final track featuring special guest Phil Campbell is the Motorhead classic “Ace of Spades”. Hey, hardcore Motorhead fans don’t hate me but, I have to say, I think I like this version of the song better than the original. That doesn’t really qualify as blasphemy does it? I mean, it does feature a member of Motorhead. Not to mention Whit‘s performance is top notch. I know I’ll catch hell for that one but, so be it. Go and write your own review.
“Enemy” is up next. Enter DEEP track number 3! Probably the most introspective and honest song this band has ever produced. After the first spin, this became my all time favorite UKJ song and currently my favorite of any song for that matter. I can’t help but to identify with parts of this song. Excellent songwriting on this one. For the listeners who may not be into the mellower side of UKJ, hang on for a second after the song fades out because it returns after the fade away as a ferocious rock monster.
I have to say, I could live with “Enemy” closing Uglier Than They Used Ta Be, but it doesn’t end there. The final track is a cover of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone“. While I usually love UKJ covers, I can’t really say that with this track. To me, this song just comes across as unfinished. Almost seems like it was thrown together at the last minute. With that being said, I can’t complain about this release. 11 tracks. 9 original and 2 covers, 1 of which is pretty stellar and 1 ehh, not so much.
It is also worth mentioning that in the day of a lot of band’s recording new albums with only a few original members together with session players then also touring with hired guns, UKJ have basically morphed into a 7 man band. With drummer Shannon Larkin being tied up with his Godsmack duties most of the time and guitarist Dave Fortman (who as become a heavy hitter in the record producing chair) being busy producing for acts such as Slipknot, Godsmack, Evanescence and Superjoint Ritual just to name a few, the band has welcomed guitarist Sonny Mayo and drummer Zac Morris into the fold not only as touring members but as full-fledged album contributors as well. Having all seven members play on this album only helps add an extra dynamic to UKJ’s sound.
Overall, Uglier Than They Used Ta Be will in no doubt be at the top or at least the top 3 of my top 10 releases of 2015.