Ugly Kid Joe
Uglier Than They Used Ta Be
Release Date: 10/16/15
Ugly Kid Joe are back! Well, actually, they officially made their comeback with 2013’s Stairway to Hell EP. Since that one failed to make a stir, I’m counting this one as their official re-entry into relevant music.
The first thing we need to tackle here are vocal expectations. Whitfield Crane was once one of the most maniacally fascinating singers in all of rock and roll. You won’t find quite as much of that here. I really dig his voice on this record but it’s much more in line with his work in Another Animal and Medication than it is with UKJ’s previous albums. For me, that took some getting used to.
In some ways, this album picks up where the band left off as it has the great big melodic hooks that made Menace to Sobriety great but also a good bit of the heaviness that made Motel California damn near perfect. Case in point is “Hell Ain’t Hard to Find,” a spectacular hard rock gem full of pounding rhythms (why can’t Larkin play like that in Godsmack?), thick, groovy guitars, and a melody line that you just can’t shake. This is easily one of my favorite UKJ songs ever!
“She’s Already Gone” is a little under-produced compared to the other songs but it’s got a hook that sinks into you in the same way “Milkman’s Son” did but with a much grittier guitar behind it all. “Let the Record Play” is another song with heavy guitars and great hooks that sticks with you long after the album ends too. The same goes for the ballad “Nothing Ever Changes.” It may be acoustic but it really sticks to your ribs.
Unfortunately the band throw in some covers that are fun (most notably “Papa Was Rollin’ Stone” because it’s the only time you get to hear the voice you expect from Whit Crane), but lackluster at best, to round it all out. Call me a codger but it really disrupts an otherwise return-to-form kinda album.
I really, really dig this album but it took a few spins to get there. This ain’t the pissy, f*ck-all band that you loved in high school. This is a group of professional musicians that have more to talk about than a “mother**ckin’ sandwich” or the fact that they are “the god*amn devil” or even how they hate everything about you. I definitely appreciate that the band keep what made them a standout act without necessarily trying to sound like angry teenagers anymore (That’s right, I’m looking at you Slayer). Uglier Than They Used Ta Be should be on your must-have list for 2015.
Reviewed by Mark Fisher