Friday, December 15, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 40: Urge Overkill - Exit the Dragon

Album - Exit the Dragon
Artist - Urge Overkill
Key Players - National "Nash" Kato (guitars, vocals), King "Eddie" Roeser (bass, guitars, vocals), Blackie Onassis (drums)
Produced By - The Butcher Brothers

Release Date - October 1995

What caused me to blow off the dust? - The fact that Urge Overkill, one of Chicago's most beloved and hated artists, just totally rocks my socks off.

Overview - Urge started off with some very modest sales success, despite positive critical review, with their first few offerings, Jesus Urge Superstar (1988) and The Supersonic Storybook (1991). It wasn't until 1993's Saturation came along that the band tasted more mainstream fame with the release of the radio-friendly singles, "Positive Bleeding" and "Sister Havana". Despite Saturation being a strong effort from Urge, it still remains today as one of the most turned-in used discs in history. Poised on the edge of stardom, Quentin Tarantino used their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" (from the Stull EP) in the seminal film, Pulp Fiction in 1994. Many believed this was all Urge needed to fully explode in the US. On the heels of this massive exposure, they released the challenging and highly rewarding Exit the Dragon in 1995 (which was originally to be titled "100% Not Guilty", after OJ Simpson's infamous plea). Mixing solid altern-rock/pop riffs and melodies with the cool vocal duality of Kato and Roeser (they alternate lead vocals on the tracks, Nash, with his nasal, yet clean delivery along with the edgier, rougher Roeser), the disc consists of 14 pop masterpieces. But for some reason, the album completely flopped and the band broke up shortly thereafter.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - Exit the Dragon starts off with the groovy "Jaywalkin'", as the sinister gruff of Roeser waxes on "all the evil in the world" and really sets the overlying dark tinge that follows the rest of the disc. On the heels of that is the mid-tempo "The Break", another King tune which humorously ends with a false start into the next song ("Need Some Air"). The guitar riff starts and stops and someone says softly, "sorry", before the massive guitar crunch of the real tune (vox by Kato) kicks in. One of the catchier songs on the disc, "Need Some Air" is a real toe-tapper with a stick-in-your-craw chorus and bombastic dual guitar leads. Following that, is another brilliant Kato track, the shuffling, acoustic-driven "Somebody Else's Body". Again, catchy, melodic, and quirky (check out the swirling guitars throughout and the horns at the end), this tune caps an incredibly strong opening quartet to the disc. The disc doesn't slow down from there though. "Honesty Files" is another groove-laden mid-tempo Roeser gem as is the hard-rock riffage of "This is No Place", which follows. And if the poignant Kato ballad "View Of The Rain" sounds a little familiar to you, it's because it appeared on the wildly popular No Alternative compilation CD in 1993, only under a different title ("Take A Walk"). The disc really peaks on track ten ("Last Night/Tomorrow"), a five and a half minute opus that begins with a Roeser tale of personal woe in which he laments "I'm lost, console me again" behind catchy guitar leads and well-orchestrated rhythms. About halfway through, the barnburner "Tomorrow" section of the song kicks in, Mr. Hyde-like, behind Nash Kato's proclamation that "whatever doesn't kill me just makes me stronger" as the song regrettably fades out too soon. The disc loses a little bit of steam toward the end, concluding with the slightly overindulgent "Digital Black Epilogue", but while the cacophony winds down, a feeling of satisfaction sets in.

Where are they now? - After the flopping of Exit the Dragon and the subsequent tour, the band really floundered. Blackie was in serious with trouble with drugs and Kato and Roeser feuded. Nash and King kissed and made up a few years ago and did a reunion tour in 2004 without Blackie (whose whereabouts are unknown) and a host of supporting musicians. Kato and Roeser have been playing little one-off acoustic gigs here and there (mostly in Europe) and it seemed at first that the first new Urge Overkill material since Exit the Dragon would be released this year. But, so far, no such luck.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - Saw them in February 2004 downstairs at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Finally got my chance to own a UO baseball shirt! Anyway, Urge kept adding opening bands, so they didn't end up going on until 11:00 PM. The sound downstairs at the Middle East is probably the worst in town and tonight was no different. Add to it, the rust of the new band and Kato's inability to sing some of the notes at the beginning, it was a very rough start. And for fun, don't forget to include the people that come to show to heckle them. Yes, like Ryan Adams, they have people who love to go to their shows and yell at them about how much they suck. Anyway, Kato's voice kicked in about half-way through and the band finished the set strong.

FDF Overall Take - As far as 90s bands and CDs go, Urge and Exit the Dragon are under-appreciated and underrated. The lead four tracks are fantastic and the duality of the Kato/Roeser vocal dance is prevalent throughout the 14 tracks and especially on the schizophrenic "Last Night/Tomorrow". But aside from the vocals almost all of the songs feature crunching guitars, catchy riffs and melodies, and an easily accessible sound that is still viable some 11 years after its release. All odd, considering the substantial failure that the disc was. If you haven't checked out Exit the Dragon before, why not give it a spin, especially since you can probably get it used for next to nothing. And if this one is buried in your collection, dust it off. And don't let it be forgotten.



At 2:13 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Why didn't I see this blog before today? Nice work!

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Screw Ryan Adams. He sucks, especially if he has nothing better to do than go to a show and heckle somebody. If he put that time into writing a GOOD song instead of the crap he puts out on what seems like a daily basis, his music might stand out. Instead, HE stands out for being an idiot. Message to Ryan Adams: Respect a good band when you see one, moron, and bask in the glory that will always be Urge Overkill. Jerkoff.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Dim said...

Hey anonymous,

I think I wasn't too clear with what I wrote here. Ryan Adams doesn't heckle Urge. Urge has "fans" that go their shows and yell how much they suck. Ryan Adams has to put up with the same shit. He has people who follow him around and heckle him throughout his show. So, I was saying that Urge was like Ryan Adams in that respect. NOT that Ryan goes to shows to heckle Urge. I've never heard of anything like that happening.

And, for the record, I personally think that Ryan Adams is one of the best songwriters out there. Not that my opinion matters that much.


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