Sound — 8
One of the most underrated forces to arrive out from the late 1980s hard rock movement was Ugly Kid Joe. The band was formed in Isla Vista, California back in 1987 and quickly broke out into the mainstream through such striking numbers as "Everything About You" and their cover of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle." There was a glam metal edge to their approach and a rebellious attitude to their performance that would have been more readily accepted half a decade prior to the release of their 1991 debut "America's Least Wanted," and even as their audience warmly embraced the follow-up "Menace to Sobriety" in 1995 the members of Ugly Kid Joe would follow the same path as many of their like minded brethren from the Sunset Strip during the grunge movement that defined the 1990s. Following the release of their third album "Motel California" in 1996, the group would disband and remain in activity for more than a decade.
As we fast forward to 2015, Ugly Kid Joe have since long reunited and are back with their fourth installment, "Uglier Than They Used Ta Be." The album serves as an unapologetic reference to their 1991 EP "As Ugly as They Wanna Be," which perhaps shows that the band was aiming for a return to their roots. It seems inevitable that most of the original lineup would not still be along for the ride; the only founding members left are the core of lead vocalist Whitfield Crane and guitarist Klaus Eichstadt, and somehow the fierce Ugly Kid Joe spirit and sound remains alive and well here. Songs like "Hell Ain't Hard to Find" and "Let the Record Play" are highlighted by funk rock grooves and snarling vocals, whereas "The Enemy" is a laidback reflective acoustic number which could have found a comfortable home alongside the debut Ugly Kid Joe record.
"Bad Seed" is a more aggressive presentation, and yet that is nothing until Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell enters the fold. Crane has been a frequent collaborator with Campbell over the years and even joined Motörhead live onstage during a number of performances, so it seems only appropriate that the prominent virtuoso makes an appearance here. A rambunctious cover of "Ace of Spades" seems inevitable, and Crane does a formidable job at nailing the whisky laced growls of the original recording. Campbell also attributes his talents to two more original cuts, "My Old Man" and "Under the Bottom," both of which retain plentiful quantities of the band's signature approach. When it comes to surprising comebacks, Ugly Kid Joe takes the prize with "Uglier Than They Used Ta Be."
Lyrics — 8
Whitfield Crane has maintained his vocal abilities rather well over the past several decades, which allows him to deliver his usually varietal performance throughout Ugly Kid Joe's first album in nineteen years. Crane alternates between melodic singing to fierce falsetto to menacing growls throughout "Uglier Than They Used Ta Be"; what attitude is presented always seem to depend on the instrumentation surrounding the main microphone, and Crane is readily prepared to accommodate. This allows the end result to follow a similar suit as to what was previously featured on "America's Least Wanted," only with a slight emphasis directed towards reflective moments.
Overall Impression — 8
The energy is contagious, the attitude is pungent and the performance is consistently standout on Ugly Kid Joe's "Uglier Than They Used Ta Be." Of course, any familiar listener who previously picked up 2012's "Stairway to Hell" was anticipating such a return-to-form and the surviving members of Ugly Kid Joe fail to disappoint. Despite everything stacked against these vindicated musicians, what shows up on the end result stays true to the group's original vision and makes for a frequently rewarding listen.