Cult Heroes No. 24: Ugly Kid Joe
Ugly Kid Joe suffered a singles-chart hammer-blow from which they never recovered: they had a maddening top-five hit called Everything About You in 1992, and their career nosedived from there.
Words: Geoff Barton
A sneering pop song, Everything… wasn’t particularly representative of the Californian band’s oeuvre, and ultimately they came to despise the track. I remember seeing them perform it on a Saturday morning kids’ TV show: they couldn’t even be bothered to try. The band all looked terminally hungover, and singer Whitfield Crane was slumped on a stool, unshaven and with dirty, shaggy hair, mumbling incoherently and making no sense whatsoever.
The nearest Ugly Kid Joe got to repeating the success of their most famous song was with a cover version: Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle, which scraped into the top 10 a couple of years after Everything… was massive.
The handicap of having an annoying hit single in their repertoire prompted Ugly Kid Joe to release a fuck-the-record industry album and give it a title that, if not a spoonerism, was certainly a very successful play on words: Menace To Sobriety.
Before …Sobriety, Ugly Kid Joe (their name being a pastiche of glam rockers Pretty Boy Floyd) had specialised in an idiosyncratic combination of bubblegum heavy metal and punk-rock neuroses. Then they went completely AWOL.
…Sobriety, their penultimate album, came out in 1995 and is long overdue a reappraisal. A spiteful reaction to the tinselled trappings of fame, the record is the sound of a band in supremely pissed-off, self-destructive mode. It’s monstrously heavy, and it’s an undiscovered classic.
Throughout much of the album, Crane sings in a harsh, throaty rasp – he occasionally sounds like he’s possessed by the Devil – and every lyric is like a vicious spurt of acid in the eye: ‘You don’t know me/You don’t even care,’ Crane snarls in Tomorrow’s World; ‘I’m the lead singer! I’m the man!’ he taunts in Suckerpath; ‘I’m Frank Sinatra in a rock’n’roll band,’ he boasts in C.U.S.T., a bizarre song that veers into nonsensical rap-metal territory.
The stuttering, thrashing rage of God has to be heard to be believed, while Clover is as fine a slice of tough American rock’n’roll as you’ll ever hear. The guitar work, led by Klaus Eichstadt, is always mangled and insane, and Oompa has a riff that’s just plain Black Sabbath evil. Crane is plainly pleased with the results, because he comments at the end of the track: “That was nice.” (In fact, Ugly Kid Joe started life as a Sabbath covers band).
…Sobriety might wind down gently with closing track, the reflective Candle Song, but before that it’s a chaos of mayhem and confusion: 10/10 is noisy, nihilistic and full of shouts of, ‘Ten outta ten die!’, and VIP is a riotous riposte to backstage-pass culture: ‘Stay the fuck away from me/I’m talking to you, VIP!’
Amid the madness there are further mellow moments such as Jesus Rode A Harley and, to a lesser extent, Milkman’s Son. But the intensity always returns, turning you upside-down and shaking you by the ankles all over again.
Ugly Kid Joe released one more brand new album, Motel California, in 1996. It was put out on the Evilution label, the band having lost their major deal with Mercury. The inevitable split came a year later; Ugly Kid Joe were heavyweight demons with heavyweight plans that went terribly wrong.
But sadly, despite my efforts at rehabilitation, I bet you still hate everything about them.
Stop press: Amazingly, Ugly Kid Joe appear to have reunited. Check out their MySpace site for further info.