Urge Overkill – Rock & Roll Submarine (2011)

Posted: June 7, 2011 in Music

Back in the early 1990s, modern music was living through the chapter known as the “grunge-era.” It was a time when most of the attention was drawn on the Northwestern area of the United States – more distinctly Seattle, WA – where band after band created a sound that defined a generation with their dirty, fuzzy, alternative fare that took the nation’s airwaves by storm.

Even Chicago had a pulse during this time, as The Smashing Pumpkins joined their flannel-clad brethren and made their contributions to the alternative rock sound. While these bands gathered all the media attention and grew into superstars, a few bands remained in the shadows during this time making – in my opinion – better music than any of the bands previously mentioned.

Now of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but here’s mine in a nutshell. If Pearl Jam was cool, Sonic Youth was cooler. If Soundgarden was hip, The Pixies were more so. And while everyone was gobbling up Nevermind – the supposed “greatest” album ever, I was secretly enjoying Urge Overkill.

Formed in Chicago in the late 80s, Urge Overkill quietly made a name for themselves with a few noise-rock independent releases on the young label Touch and Go Records (Jesus Urge Superstar/Americruiser/The Supersonic Storybook). Often mistakingly lumped-in to the list of grunge bands (as they opened for both Nirvana and Pearl Jam at the height of their popularity), the band soon signed to major label Geffen Records and released their defining album – Saturation – in 1993. By this time the band had changed, both musically and personnel-wise. Saturation was less noise-rock and more of a combination of arena rock and garage-band jam. While the music was bluesy and laid back, it was still loud and electric. The critics loved it, yet somehow the band couldn’t match the success of Nirvana and others, and after an ignored (but highly underrated) follow-up – 1995’s Enter The Dragon – the band broke up. Their dream of rock and roll stardom had fallen short.

Over the last 16 years, the band have tried on several occasions to regroup, and actually played a few live shows along the way – but in typical rock and roll fashion, the feuding and egos have prevented any new music from the band since the mid 90s.

Apparently cooler heads have finally prevailed, though, as Urge Overkill is finally back with a new album. Rock & Roll Submarine was released – albeit with little fanfare – May 10th. The band is reformed – original members Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser have joined up with Gaza Strippers guitarist Mike Hodgkiss and journeyman drummer Brian “Bonn” Quast – but is just as sharp as ever. After almost two decades, you would expect that Urge would have rolled with the punches and changed their sound to keep up with modern alternative rock. Instead, Kato and Roeser have literally punched back at the scene and delivered what may be their best album to date – all the while retaining their trademark sound from a scene long gone.

Delivering 12 tracks of Cheap-Trick-through-a-wood-chipper, Urge Overkill has captured lightning in a bottle. The lightning isn’t as bright as modern alternative fans (in to groups like The Strokes and The Killers) would probably like, but keep in mind that the bottle is over 20 years old now. I hold fast the contention that without Urge Overkill, The Jesus Lizard and Screaming Trees, none of the modern renaissance bands would even exist – but again, that’s just my opinion.

Will Rock & Roll Submarine finally give Urge Overkill the superstardom they so greatly desire and deserve? Probably not, but if you like your rock a little fuzzy and stripped-down, this is an album you can’t afford to pass up.

Standout tracks include the album opener “Mason Dixon,” “Effigy” (which was released as a single prior to the album), the blues-heavy “Poison Flower,” and the powerhouse rocker “Little Vice.” But while those are the cream of the crop here, the rest of the album is definitely worth multiple listens as well. “Quiet Person” has a very earthy vibe, complete with brushed drums and mandolin plucking, and “She’s My Ride” squawks and squelches with great style.

My favorite track of the set, though, was “Niteliner” a tune that, while buried deep in the album, harbors back to what made this band great in the first place. Crunchy hooks and driving rhythms paired with the dual vocal stylings of Kato and Roeser take the listener an foot-stomping ride down memory lane.

Inevitably, Urge Overkill will return to the shadows without much pomp and circumstance. Mostly because there are bands out there garnering much more alternative rock attention with their major label deals and shiny videos, and partly because music fans in general carry a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” attitude. But if you – like me – enjoy music by removing all the “rules” to the game and actually appreciating the music itself, you might just take that trip into the shadows with them.


01 – Mason Dixon
02 – Rock & Roll Submarine
03 – Effigy
04 – Poison Flower
05 – Little Vice
06 – Thought Balloon
07 – Quiet Person
08 – She’s My Ride
09 – End of Story
10 – The Valiant
11 – Niteliner
12 – Touch to a Cut


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