Album Review: Ugly Kid Joe - 'Uglier Than They Used Ta Be'.
There was time when it was easy to hate everything about Ugly Kid Joe. Bursting onto the scene back in 1991 like an obnoxious teenager at a back yard party, their chart-bothering singles and surfer-bum image made them easy to dismiss. However, what lay beneath the hype was a kick-ass rock band who had the tunes to match. Anyone who needed further proof only had to witness the band live, such as on their last run of UK dates back in 2013 where they wiped the floor with touring partners Skid Row.
With a renewed vigour since reforming five years ago, ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’ is the band’s first full album in an incredible nineteen years. Of course it’s not their first new material that the band have released in all that time, and in the same way that debut EP ‘As Ugly As They Wanna Be’ preceded the full length ‘America’s Least Wanted’, this release follows on the heels of 2012’s succinct yet superb ‘Stairway To Hell’ EP.
The first thing that hits the listener as the album kicks in, is just how laid back Ugly Kid Joe sound. The snot-nosed attitude of old has been replaced by a newfound maturity which happily, suits the band perfectly. That doesn’t mean that it’s all sweetness and light however, and the album contains some of the darkest material that the band have ever recorded. With down-tuned, heavy-assed riffs, and vocalist Whitfield Crane – for the most part – singing in a lower register, this is UKJ recast for the present day, with elements of Foo Fighters (‘Hell Ain’t Hard To Find’) and William DuVall-era Alice In Chains (‘Let The Record Play’, ‘Bad Seed’) thrown into the contemporary mix for good measure.
The use of dropped-d guitars may be the lifeblood that runs through the album, however it’s countered by the liberal use of acoustics, to surprisingly cohesive effect. With amps off, ‘Mirror Of The Man’ is the first such track, and with a menacing undertone it’s a real understated gem. ‘Under The Bottom’, meanwhile melds the two styles together to devastating effect, while also adding Maiden-esque harmony guitar melodies to the mix.
Featuring guesting six-stringer Phil Campbell, the latter is one of three tracks that see the Welshman adding his familiar greasy tones. There’s also the steady AC/DC –aping rocker ‘My Old Man’, however if you’re going to have a member of Motörhead turn up on your album, you’d be daft not to give ‘Ace Of Spades’ a run through, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. A staple of Ugly Kid Joe’s live set for some time, their studio recording is a faithful reworking of the classic. Unfortunately, it sits jarringly against the less hurried pace of the other material on offer, as does an unnecessary cover of The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, which closes the album.
However it’s a minor quibble, and as a whole ‘Uglier Than They Used Ta Be’ is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of surprising depth. “The enemy is us”, sings Crane on ‘Enemy’, the penultimate track on the album. Maybe once they were to some, but with an album this credible, that shouldn’t be the case anymore. Still ugly, but with a weathered dignity.
First published on myglobalmind.com, 14 January 2016.