Ugly Kid Joe
STAIRWAY TO HELL
Ugly Kid Joe was one of my very favorite bands of the later hair band era. They got massively popular off a song that, to me anyway, wasn't very good ("Everything About You"), but they backed it up with three albums that really kicked ass (AMERICA'S LEAST WANTED, MENACE TO SOBRIETY and the hugely overlooked MOTEL CALIFORNIA). With much better than average musicianship, and attitude filled lyrics that were literally spit at the listener, Ugly Kid Joe were the original "anti-hair band" hair band of the era. It didn't last too long though, and before we knew it, they were gone. Vocalist Whit Crane bounce around in bands like Life Of Agony and Medication, before joining up with former UKJ bandmate and drummer Shannon Larkin in Another Animal. Larkin also found a career in a little band called Godsmack. Dave Fortman put down his guitar and put on his producer's cap, working with tons of bands from Superjoint Ritual to Otep, among others. In short, their youthful success led several guys to other careers in music.
That said though, they have reconvened Ugly Kid Joe for a project that, ultimately, kind of proves that you can't go back to your youth when you've changed everything that you do since then. To be very clear here, STAIRWAY TO HELL is not a terrible EP on any level at all. The songs are cool, and it's a pretty good listen. But it's not the same band...not even close. These guys today are not nearly as focused on thumbing their nose at authority as they used to be. To be honest, they just sound different too...every different. Most of this material sounds closer to the Another Animal disc than it does to any of the old Ugly Kid Joe music. Crane has developed tenfold as a singer, and that results in a vocal performance that doesn't feature a ton of the snarling sound he had in the old days. The only song that truly sounds like the old Whit is "You Make Me Sick", where he snarls through the entire track. For most of the material though, Crane utilizes more of a clean vocal that he showcased in all his other professional projects. He does revisit the old sound in the chorus of "I'm Alright", but it's bookended again by the clean vocal.
The same can be said about the music. While certainly a lot has changed in the musical landscape since their heyday, this material is just outside the style that most people would expect from Ugly Kid Joe. The performance is a LOT cleaner than the dirty raw sound the band was known for. That probably has a lot to do with Fortman's extensive studio know how and the clean, modern studio experience that Larkin brings to the table after a decade in one of the world's most successful rock bands. Still, it leaves a project that simply doesn't feel like what you would expect to find with the "Ugly Kid Joe" name on it.
PITRIFF RATING - 72/100 - I really wanted this to be better than it is. Instead, Ugly Kid Joe prove that time and life apart completely changes the chemistry of a band. Definitely not a bad release, but certainly this doesn't feel anything like the band that brought such attitude filled songs like "God", "Sandwich" and "Neighbor".