As “comeback records” go, the new Urge Overkill LP is pretty matter-of-fact about its conceits and very plain about its intentions. Oui is Urge Overkill’s first record since 2011’s Rock & Roll Submarine and only their second since the trio’s 1995 heyday. (Insert reference to Pulp Fiction and “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” here.) While there are some classy, bright-eyed moments on the new LP, even some great ones, Oui does little more than whet the appetite or feed the most basic of meals. As records go, it doesn’t stretch or hunger or aspire, so much as it checks off the expectant boxes. Yeah, the songs are pretty good – really good, at times – and, though much debate could be had about the absence of Blackie Onassis, the band fits its classic mold of Stones strut and alt-punk attitude. But, given the chance to steal the pandemic moment, these guys stuck to the script, and that’s a shame.
That all said, there is some goddamn electricity in this thing. “Follow My Shadow,” for all the obviousness of its verse/chorus/verse molds, has some mighty, mighty big earworms lurking behind Kato’s amp. For good measure, though, listeners need to ingest “I Been Ready,” which is more of a pot-boiler. Again, the band here works within familiar structures and formulas, but there’s an overall jaggedness to the delivery that really sells the thing. That jaggedness, occasionally a kind of stand-in for some meta form of authenticity, perhaps, sells other moments, too. To that end, go no further than “Litany” – arguably the record’s finest track. Though it’s buoyed at first by acoustic guitars, there’s nothing tame or muted about the band’s delivery, as Kato unfurls lyrics that seem as bluntly delivered as they are shrouded in shades of mystique. “What does it cost/ to defy what was never shown?” he blurts during the chorus and, as the guitar and drums build to a crescendo, he adds to the wonder: “What it could’ve been/ but it wouldn’t be.” For a band that’s tasted fame and wandered off that path – maybe tried to find its way back to it – these are the sorts of things that read like autobiography.
Elsewhere, the band lays down some things thick and the result feels a little overcooked. “I Can’t Stay Glad @ U,” cut with the vocals high, high, high in the mix, features the same earworm refrains as “Follow My Shadow” but the strut is so plain on its face that there’s little sex or mystery to keep it chugging along. “Won’t Let Go” is a promising blues-rock stomper but the band is so quick to seek the ever-loving hook that they forgo more subtle tones for big dividends. Do they pay? Yeah, sorta. But listeners might find themselves wishing the band sought out more nuanced deliveries instead of going for the Big Refrain. “A Prisoner’s Dilemma” is simply too bright, too show-y, and the horns, buried here and there, make it feel a little hammy, maybe even insincere. “Totem Pole,” with its sharp-cut guitar licks, has promise but doesn’t do much more than what surrounds it.
The closer, “Snow,” is really something else, though. It starts with a grungy walking guitar line and expands, ever so gradually, over warbled lyrics and sparse guitar work. It seems almost counterintuitive to much of what precedes it. “If you wanted to test me/ I’m gonna contest you,” Kato offers and, for once, we’re right in the room with him, on his level, all the bravado and artifice stripped away. If only the rest of the record were so daring in its expressiveness, we’d have a real winner here. Instead, Urge Overkill plays to the basics. It’s not bad. But, for a band with this much potential, you’ll want more. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Feb. 7, 2022