Assuming Skid Row is a space ship, the kind with wings on, it’s not a stretch to say that Skid Row’s wings fell off mid-voyage during the nineties. Hurtling through space at some ungodly speed, they started flailing in all directions for a bit before sprouting some new wings, the better to avoid asteroids with. Jettisoning windbag frontman Sebastian Bach
in ’96 (a bold move, considering he was their only recognisable feature) and losing drummer Rob Affuso to a wedding band (and he took his cowbell with him), it looked as if Park Avenue really did lead to skid row.
Reality very rarely follows song lyrics however (just ask John Denver), and Skid Row are experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in 2006, with the release of their fifth full-length album Revolutions Per Minute
, their second with Texan frontman Johnny Solinger (whom they recruited after visiting his website) and the first with drummer Dave Gara.
Skid Row were always one of the more dextrous bands of the hair rock era- barring the 15,000 or so one-album wonders, few of their peers can boast a major transition on each release- due in no small part to the songwriting ability (and big record collections) of main songwriters Dave ‘Snake’ Sabo and Rachel Bolan. A number of factors, including a career-threatening wrist injury, limited Snake’s written contribution to just two co-credits, so Rachel Bolan took on the bulk of the work. On the whole, Bolan and Solinger seem to have become more atuned to each other’s styles, and (unlike Thickskin
), it genuinely feels like the melodies are tailor-made for Johnny’s powerful rock voice.
Solinger never sounded 100% comfortable on Thickskin
, and it was clear he and the band hadn’t quite gelled as well in the composition stakes as they had on stage. Taking over from one of the best performers in heavy metal, with the singing ability to boot, Solinger needed to be more than just a Bach-impersonator. Though he sings in a lower register than his predecessor, Solinger is no less versatile a vocalist, and is capable of injecting some of Sebastian’s mannerisms (alternating between clean and choked tone at will) into his own more benign range.
was an uneven and generally bland poke at modern alternative rock, Revolutions Per Minute
redresses the balance by throwing in elements of classic punk, post-punk, country and goth to the mix. It doesn’t all work, mind, but it’s certainly a more appealing prospect to the ears than the largely same-ish Subhuman Race
- how many other heavy metal albums could you name this year which feature a down n’ dirrrty southerner approximating not one but two hammy Irish accents?
Opener ‘Disease’ rivals ‘Monkey Business’ from Slave To The Grind
in the explosive intros category, lunging as it does from a discordant picked intro to a bone-crunching riff and scream combo Dave Grohl stopped writing after The Colour And Shape
. ‘Another Dick In The System’ and ‘White Trash’ echo Nikki Sixx and Tracii Guns’ defunct side-project Brides of Destruction
, taking glam-punk into the twenty-first century with razor-sharp production and sleazy power-chord riffs. Just as importantly, the trademark Skid Row gang vocals are present and correct after a disappointing showing last time around.
‘When God Can’t Wait’ is perhaps the most surprising cut on the album, an Celtic-punk/Oi! number that can’t help but recall Flogging Molly
as Solinger apes Dave King’s characteristic sneer as Snake’s precise guitar lines are impressive in place of the traditional accordion and fiddle arrangements. The metallic cover of U2 knock-offs The Alarm’s new wave hit ‘Strength’ is just as unexpected, but slots remarkably smoothly into the final spot on the disc’s first side, and the strength and versatility of Solinger’s voice is made clear as he out-Bonos Bono on the cleverly arranged track.
‘Shut Up Baby, I Love You’ and ‘Let It Ride’ are the most obvious reference points as regards the Bach-era, the former invoking his trademark yowl with ruthless Backyard Babies
-style aggression. and the latter bearing some significance to Slave To The Grind
’s punkier moments, a la ‘Riot Act.’ ‘White Trash,’ on the other hand, comes across as a sly dig at those who are most surely the band’s largest remaining demographic, the grand old yankee layabout. Aside from not being particularly funny, it’s an awkward mix of pop-metal and British punk on a CD that profits so well from the fusion on other tracks. More successful is ‘Love Is Dead,’ which adds to the formula a superbly understated goth rock guitar hook.
‘You Lie’ pops up not once but twice on initial pressings of the album, first in its originally form and again with the very subtle addition of harmonica and lap steel. As a pop-country number with cynical, well-written lyrics, it’s relatively amusing, although rather timid by the standards of the genre that brought us ‘I Caught My Husband In Bed with the Fertilizer Gun.’ As it’s neither a standout track nor a particularly adaptable one, it’s difficult to see how its double-inclusion could be logically explained, but it’s a ray of sunshine sandwiched between the train-wreck (spaceship-wreck, even) ‘White Trash’ and the disposable Ataris-alike ‘Nothing.’
Revolutions Per Minute
’s major problem isn’t a major lack of quality, but a massive lack of cohesion. Taken as individual tracks, Revolutions Per Minute
is a very good, if unremarkable, collection of songs. As an album, however, it stutters and starts and never really picks up the momentum it threatens to build through the first few tracks. The number of styles present and the band’s ability and willingness to adapt are impressive, and for the most part the tracks are well-written, however the tracks don’t seem to be arranged in any real order, other than the good songs going at the front and the rest to the back.
The vital elements that made Skid Row such a great heavy metal band in the early nineties are simply too thin in the water this time around, and the album wanes in comparison to its predecessors as a result. While the punk and alternative rock elements aren’t new additions to the band’s sound by any means, as many critics have noted, they do some to come at the expense of the soaring melodies and break-neck dynamics that made Bach’s Skid Row such an exciting listen. Revolutions Per Minute
isn’t a bad album by any stretch, but they certainly can do better.