Sound — 5
Releasing their debut self-titled album in 1989, Enuff Z'Nuff came onto the scene right when the glam aesthetic was fading and grunge was becoming the new king of the hill for rock music. Even still, Enuff Z'Nuff kept their brand of hair metal going all throughout the '90s, but by the time they released their tenth album, the band's consistent run was slowing to a stop. Frontman Donnie Vie was done touring with the band in 2002, and after the tragic deaths of former lead guitarist Derek Frigo and drummer Ricky Parent, it seemed like Enuff Z'Nuff would be down for the count.
Vie and co-founding bassist Chip Z'Nuff reunited in 2006 to film a pilot that never aired, but that misfortune ultimately pirouetted into the band's second wind, with Vie and Z'Nuff writing a new batch of songs that resulted in 2010's "Dissonance," and get the band back on the performing circuit. Vie would once again leave the band in 2013, and with Z'Nuff continuing to tour the band with a new guitarist/vocalist and drummer, they're now putting out their thirteenth studio album, "Clowns Lounge."
As opposed to their previous album consisting of all newly written material, "Clowns Lounge" is constructed similarly to how 2004's "?" was, mostly consisting of old demo material from when Enuff Z'Nuff was putting together their debut album. Given this, the album harking back to the band's initial hair metal sound differs substantially from the contemporary likes of "Dissonance," but with the primary content being demos that didn't make it on the band's albums the first time around, the inherent gap in quality is evident compared to those early albums. While some of the instrumental output meets expectations, like Z'Nuff's bass riffing in "Back in Time," "Radio," and "Good Luv," and the late Frigo's guitar solos in "Round and Round," and "Nothing," no song rises to exemplary heights, and the typical hair metal template used to build each song makes the general output much more homogenous compared to the more varied output of their self-titled album and their 1991 follow-up "Strength."
It's also a bit awkward to hear Vie at the vocal helm, knowing that he's currently not in the band, and only a couple of songs have other lead vocalists. "The Devil of Shakespeare" proves to be the strongest song on the album, essentially being a supergroup one-off which features the late Warrant frontman Jani Lane on lead vocals and Styx's lead guitarist James Young, but the opening "Dog on a Bone" - the only brand new song made for the album with Chip Z'Nuff on lead vocals - leans on co-opting the "here I come, I come" vocal hook from Stone Temple Pilots' "Sex Type Thing" like a crutch. And with these songs being much younger, their cleaner sound on the album highlights a noticeable discrepancy in sound quality when followed by the rougher, low fidelity likes of other songs like "Backstreet Kidz" and "Round and Round."
Lyrics — 7
While some of Vie's lyrics in "Clowns Lounge" are about things he's covered plenty times over, with songs of love ("Hold my hand, I'll take you there / I'll pay the fare to rockabye dreamland" in "Rockabye Dreamland"), heartbreak ("How could you do this to me? / After all that we've been through" in "Back in Time"), and hedonism ("Slamming drinks and cigarettes / Living life with no regrets" in "Good Luv"), many of the lyrics here show Vie writing with a more downcast outlook. From his observations of other hard-knock lives ("She talks of being happy, as a tear falls down her face / Swears that she'll be laughing when she finds a better place / But 'til then, it's paper roses / As the bank account she closes" in "Runaway"; "A loser's game is never won, the luck is just not with them" in "Backstreet Kidz"), to speaking on his coping mechanisms for his own pain ("I'm trying so hard not to go / Keeping myself wasted / So I don't have to taste it" in "She Makes It Harder"; "I never seem to get the breaks / So I sing to soothe the aches" in "Nothing"), "Clowns Lounge" wields more severity in its lyrics, which is a refreshing change of pace from the typical "sex, drugs & rock 'n roll" shallowness of most hair metal lyrics.
Overall Impression — 5
For fans who prefer Enuff Z'Nuff's classic style, the most appealing aspect of "Clowns Lounge" is its clear attempt to rehash their hair metal sound that was relatively absent in the previous "Dissonance." But with this blast from the past coming in the form of dusty old demos rather than writing an album's worth of brand new material, the second-stringer songs brought forth make "Clowns Lounge" feel like the long lost lesser brother of their self-titled debut.