Monday, 28 April 2014

Skid Row "United World Rebellion: Chapter One" Review

Skid Row seem to have one of the most fan dumb filled fan bases out there. You've got the fans who keep insisting that the band should reunite with Bach (despite the fact that Bach barely wrote anything while he was in the band, has his own solo career (if, admittedly, a not especially prolific one), was a HUGE egotist when he was in the band, the fact that his replacement has now been in the band longer than he has, the fact that Bach himself has said he doesn't want to do it (albeit not quite in those words) and Bach's voice has gone downhill since he left the band. Also, Rachel Bolan apparently won't let it happen, although I can't say I don't blame him when you consider those factors I've just mentioned, as a bad reunion show is still a bad show at the end of the day...), you've got the fans who act like Skid Row's change in sound has automatically made them bad (despite the fact that Subhuman Race (which also had Bach on vocals) was a stylistic change from the first two albums and, if you wanted to be technical, even their second album itself was a stylistic change from their first album), you've got the fans who just want the guys to return to their glam metal sound (despite...actually, that is kind of a reasonable complaint, since glam metal's been making a comeback in Europe since the 2000's started, although I think it's still underground enough in America that making a major return to the sound of their debut would be a very risky idea) and you've got the fans who think all of the other guys are being horribly unfair to the band and should just stop following the band if all they have to do is complaint (despite the fact that, sometimes, the other guys might actually have a fair point...although, in this case, it seems to be once in a blue moon when that does happen!).

I'm in the last category. I get that the other guys have some valid complaints, but, at the end of the day, Skid Row did what they needed to in order to survive. I can't really blame them for that. Honestly, I think that poor Johnny Solinger is being let down by the band when it comes to studio material (I've not seen the band live, so it might well be a very different story there...), as his two full length albums with him featured next to no music contributions from him (one co-writing credit on Thickskin (specifically on "Mouth Of Voodoo") and none of Revolutions Per Minute...and none on here either, now I think on it!), so he's only as good as the music he has to sing. Let me put it to you this way: if we assume that the same albums were released with Bach on vocals, they'd probably still be albums that are disliked because they simply aren't strong records. Cut the guy some slack in that regard, at least: it's not really his fault that those albums were released while Rachel Bolan and Dave Sabo weren't producing their best material!

*Cough* Anyway...

Most people will probably have heard of Skid Row for their ballads from their debut album, "18 And Life" and "I Remember You", but the guys have been around since 1986 and, aside from what was technically a break up between 1996 and 1999 (the band never officially broke up, but they didn't have a vocalist in between that period of time and most of the members were in another band named Ozone Monday during that time), have been stubbornly going on to this day, albeit with an ability to release studio albums at a rate that Boston would be impressed with (if you want to count this EP as their first album since their last one, it's taken seven years to get to this album...). You could feasibly order all of their studio albums and this EP for about £25-£30, if you shopped around a bit, although most people would probably recommend you only get their debut and Slave To The Grind. Which is fair enough, as those ARE very good records if you like glam metal and don't mind the fact that they got noticeably heavier for Slave To The Grind... (although, saying that, heavier does not mean they went into extreme metal territory, so don't expect that to mean they suddenly tried to outdo Slayer or Death in terms of heaviness!)

For those who want something resembling a detailed history of the band, Skid Row were formed in New Jersey in 1986 by guitarist Dave Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan (incidentally, two of the three original line up members still in the band today). The band added their first full line up of drummer Rob Affuso, guitarist Scotti Hill and vocalist Matt Fallon (who had also recently left Anthrax, having joined as Neil Turbin's replacement and even did some recording towards Spreading The Disease before he left the band and was replaced with Joey Belladonna). Yes, Skid Row fans, you read that right: Bach was NOT the first vocalist Skid Row had. Matt was replaced fairly quickly by Bach and the band did some touring before getting signed (thanks in part to Sabo's friendship with Jon Bon Jovi) and releasing their self-titled debut album in January 1989. This sold rather well, going platinum five times in the US alone. The same line up later returned to the studio and released Slave To The Grind in June 1991. It didn't sell quite as well, only going double platinum in the US, but the fact the album was noticeably darker than the band's debut was may have had something to do with this. After a hiatus during 1993, the band would return to the studio (again, with the same line up) to record Subhuman Race, which was released in March 1995. Although it charted well in a few countries, it doesn't appear to have sold enough to have become a platinum selling release, probably due in part to receiving very little promotion on MTV due to the music landscape basically having shifted and decreed that all bands connected to hair metal had to be ignored and hated with a burning passion while the next big thing (grunge) was around. Bach was finally fired from the band in late 1996 after an argument with Rachel Bolan about opening for Kiss on New Year's Eve 1996. The band then faded away for a bit and did their project I mentioned earlier, Ozone Monday, during which time Rob Affuso left the band and was replaced by Charlie Mills. In 1999, the band returned with Johnny Solinger on vocals and started what seems to be an unofficial tradition that every studio album needs to have a different drummer, as Charlie Mills left and was replaced by ex-Saigon Kick drummer Phil Varone. The band would release their fourth album, Thickskin, in August 2003, got Dave Gara as their new drummer in 2004 and would then go on to release Revolutions Per Minute in October 2006. The band's line up was stable until April 2010, when Dave Gara left the band and was replaced by Rob Hammersmith, who is still in the band to this day. And...we now come to as close to the present day as we can be.

2013 saw the band returning after 2006's..."controversial" might not be the best word to describe Revolutions Per Minute. Critically, it's received mixed to negative reviews (although I have seen a few somewhat positive ones out there), but the general fan reaction appears to be best summed up as "BURN, YOU FUCKER!" Honestly, I'm with the critics on this one: musically, it's not what Skid Row did on their first two albums, but I wouldn't say it's outright bad either, as it does have a couple of tracks that are enjoyable in their own right and I wouldn't say it descends to the point where I'd feel justified in getting angry at the record like Boston's Life, Love & Hope did. It's not really a record that those who only enjoy metal music are going to love, as it's got a very noticeable punk influence (which can also be seen on Slave To The Grind: "Riot Act", anyone?) and tries a few different styles of music than Skid Row have done before now. Granted, most of the experiments don't really pay off, but you get the point I'm making: Revolutions Per Minute's bad reputation, at least to me, feels a little bit extreme.

...Wait, I'm supposed to be talking about their EP from last year.

United World Rebellion: Chapter One is the first in a series of EPs (as the title may have tipped you off about) that Skid Row are going to be releasing. The marketing for the EP indicates that they're going to be making three of these EPs, although it also said they would be being released over a 12 to 18 month period, so I guess that turned out to be a bit of a lie, as we're now 12 months after the release of this EP and I've seen no info about when the second EP is going to be released (although some rumours indicate that it might be coming in June), let alone the third! So I guess you could technically argue that the EPs constitute Solinger's third album with the band, as the overall combined run time of the three EPs is likely to end up giving us about an hour's worth of music once they're all finally out!

So, what do we get from this EP? Five songs...and not all good ones, either. Yes, while other bands used 2013 as an excuse to put out two albums that ultimately proved to be a wonderful example of why double albums aren't as easy to do as you'd think they are *cough*FiveFingerDeathPunch*cough*, Skid Row used the opportunity to fail to make an EP full of all killer material.

First, let's start with the positives. If you wanted the band to return to their early sound, you'll be happy to hear that this is about the closest they've come to it since Subhuman Race. You could feasibly pretend that the band didn't release anything for about 22 year after Slave To The Grind and, at least from a musical perspective, not be too far from the mark. Johnny Solinger has also made some noticeable improvements to his singing since he joined the band, as his vocals on "Kings Of Demolition" will bring to mind Bach's voice more than you'd expect (if admittedly, still though a noticeable punk filter and without the vocal acrobatics that made Bach so well beloved). On a performance level, everyone delivered: I wouldn't say there were any performances where I would have gone "Hang it up, dude, you ain't up to doing this any more". Nobody really struck me as doing anything exception, but I guess you can give them a bit of a free pass on that front, as you don't really expect a guitar solo out of the Joe Satriani school of soloing in glam metal and Skid Row have always had a bit of a punk undertone to their music (again, "Riot Act", anyone?). Of the songs, "Kings Of Demolition" and "Stitches" are pretty good! Not flawless by any measure, but certainly are worth hearing if you wrote off Skid Row due to Bach not being in the band.

The problems start piling up after "Kings Of Demolition" (and even that wasn't exactly a flawless song: the lyrics could have done with a bit of work). "Let Go" is definitely a solid track, but the lyrics have gone NOTICEABLY downhill on this song. "This Is Killing Me" has probably Solinger's best attempt at performing a ballad that I can think of, but that doesn't necessarily make it good: his voice still doesn't seem to quite suit doing ballads properly. The fact that the opening guitar part is very reminiscent of that from "I Remember You" doesn't help much. All told, it's not exactly a bad song, but I wouldn't exactly say this is a song that a lot of people are going to want to listen to a lot of times. Which is very disappointing, as their ballads on their debut are all brilliant! "Get Up" is a step up from "This Is Killing Me", but still seems to be at about the same level as "Let Go" musically. I will say that Solinger does do a bit of a Bach influenced vocal acrobatic in this song that is worth hearing, but this song probably won't be a highlight for most people and definitely takes a bit too long to finally fade out.

So, with two tracks that are definitely worth a listen, two that are at least solid tracks and one that probably could have improved the EP by being cut, that's not really a bad track record, is it? Unfortunately, part of the thing that drags this down is that, on an EP, you can't afford to release a single bad song, as you've got less solid stuff to drown out the bad stuff. Heck, you can't even have a song that just leaves your audience going "Meh", as that's usually going to result in the song being skipped. While I will say that, track for track, it's the best record Skid Row have done with Solinger on vocals, that's really not saying a lot, as it's still only five tracks compared to Thickskin's twelve and Revolutions Per Minute's eleven!

On a production level, I think the album is maybe a bit on the loud side, but is otherwise OK. The bass doesn't require you to develop psychic abilities to be able to follow it, the guitars have some punch to them, the drums are pretty good and Solinger, while maybe a bit too quiet at points, is still OK in the mix. All told, pretty good!

So, my final conclusion? It's a fairly good EP that lets itself down by having too many songs which aren't really worth checking out. If you've not bothered with Skid Row after Bach left the band, this probably won't completely win you over, but it's worth picking up, as it's their best release with Solinger to date. For those who aren't Skid Row fans, though, I'd recommend getting their debut album and Slave To The Grind instead of this.

Final Rating: 6 Out Of 10

Skid Row are crawling towards making their first strong release with Solinger, but more work still needs to be done before they can start to win over the "No Bach, no Skid Row" crowd.

Personal Favourite Song: "Kings Of Demolition"

1 comment:

  1. This "music" and washed up (since 1996 when they ceased to exist anymore) contrived sellout band is still read as fucking garbage. And fucking garbage belongs in the $1 bargain bin at that closed down cd shop down the street. The one that closed sometime in the mid to upper 2000's when real music died out completely...