“Are you the guys on the beach that hate everything?”
Right around 30 years ago, as hair metal was in its final death throes along with most other remnants of the Reagan 80s, and the grunge movement was just starting to come into full swing in terms of global mainstream recognition, Californian hard rockers Ugly Kid Joe dropped their debut full-length, kind of bridging the gap between the dominant sounds of the previous decade and the one that had just begun.
This writer was in eighth grade at the time, and America’s Least Wanted may have been the very first cassette I ever bought for myself, or if not, at least one of the first two or three.
So when I heard that the band was releasing a brand-new album this fall — even working with the same producer they did three decades ago (Mark Dodson) — based on the nostalgia factor of course I had to check it out. But I ended up discovering that these guys (two who’ve been around since the founding days of the band and two others who’ve been on every major release in their history; only the drummer role has changed hands a few times over the years) have crafted a very good, very solid, rock record.
Ugly Kid Joe – Rad Wings of Destiny (Metalville Records, 21 October 2022)
Vocalist Whitfield Crane has stated in interviews that two of his main inspirations and heroes, as far as rock singers are concerned, are Rob Halford (who had contributed to “Goddamn Devil” on America’s Least Wanted, and whose band directly inspired the title Rad Wings of Destiny), and the late Bon Scott. The latter’s influence is immediately apparent on this record as opening track “That Ain’t Livin'” would have fit seamlessly on TNT — the vocal inflections, the guitar tone, the overall composition and structure.
Bits of AC/DC flavor pop up again throughout these tracks, like in “Dead Friends Play” (despite its lyrical references to Black Sabbath), although that song also incorporates a bit more southern rock twang. That features even more prominently in the banjo-driven “Drinkin’ and Drivin’,” reminiscent of Black Label Society precursors Pride & Glory. Unsurprisingly, more early-to-mid-90s touchpoints may be found all over the place, including the Ozzmosis vibe of “Failure” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers does Stevie Wonder funk that permeates “Up in the City.”
Far beyond merely recapping the range of hard rock sounds of a decade long past, though, some of the album’s highlights are its more plaintive moments: the acoustic ballad “Everything’s Changing” and “Kill the Pain” which alternates between acoustic and heavier sections — both of which represent the sound of a mature, veteran group who has been around a long time and has seen a lot of the good and bad life has to offer. This all shines through in the tone of the music, the lyrical content, and even the raw timbre of the vocals.
And finally, it wouldn’t be Ugly Kid Joe without throwing in a cover song, would it? Right in the center, they dive into The Kinks‘ 1970 classic “Lola,” and true to form, they absolutely nail it: from the sound of the guitars (even if a tiny bit more metallic than the original) to the overall tongue-in-cheek playfulness of the delivery.
Rad Wings of Destiny is now streaming at Bandcamp, or you can pick it up on CD or vinyl right here.
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