Rock & Roll Submarine
Back in 1993, there were few songs that sounded as great jumping through the speakers as Urge Overkill’s “Sister Havana.” With a monster guitar hook, stoopid lyrics, and a melody borrowed from KISS, the tune was an instant party starter. It was always more than a little disappointing to me when rock ‘n’ roll excess and too many burned bridges ultimately led to the band’s disintegration. So I wish I could say that for their first studio album in 16 years, the Chicago band had finally put it all together and seemed destined to get another shot at the brass ring. Unfortunately, Rock & Roll Submarine is just as spotty as their already checkered career suggests.
Original members Nash Kato (guitar, vocals) and Eddie “King” Roeser (guitar, vocals) are back, joined here by bassist Mike “Hadji” Hodgkiss and drummer Brian “Bon” Quast. (Former drummer Blackie Onassis, whose problems with heroin caused strife in the band during their ’90s heyday, sits this one out). The new lineup comes storming out of the gate with “Mason/Dixon,” a ’70s rock guitar riff-a-rama with great harmonies but a repetitive non-melody. The equally rocking title track has nice multi-tracked vocals and a psychedelic, underwater-sounding bridge section to recommend it. Roeser’s crunchy “Effigy” even echoes “Sister Havana” in parts.
The strongest tunes here may be the Bowie-esque “Thought Balloon” and the instrumentally subdued, almost Elliott Smith-like “Quiet Person.”
But too many songs here like “Poison Flower,” the dated, metal-sounding “Little Vice,” and the nervy set-closer “Touched to a Cut” — despite their volume — don’t seem to go anywhere. And barely developed hooks ultimately prove elusive on songs like “She’s My Ride” and “End of Story.” Despite being one of the record’s stronger melodies, “The Valiant” ultimately wears out its welcome and the somewhere-this-side-of-KISS “Niteliner” is a bit of a mess for all of the same reasons that some of Urge Overkill’s stuff works.
Sadly, that sense that Urge Overkill in the ’90s were all flash and no substance continues to permeate this attempt at a comeback, but ultimately it’s about the tunes and the ones on Rock & Roll Submarine simply aren’t strong enough or fun enough to get the party started this time.
Urge Overkill: www.urgeoverkill.com