Skid Row: Subhuman Race

Skid Row’s grunge album.

At least that’s how I always thought of it. I mean, just look at it. Plus, we talked about how their excellent Slave To The Grind was swallowed up under a wave of grunge, relegating Skid Row firmly to the “hair metal” bin of music history, even though they were becoming so much more than their hits from their self-titled debut. Anyway, even though I was a huge fan, and even though I remember thinking this wasn’t half-bad when I listened to it, I still never spent enough time with it to get rid of that “their grunge album” label.  I mean, it wasn’t as ridiculous as Motley Crue’s or Warrant’s grunge albums, but still, it just felt weird.

It turns out, though, that, while it is quite a departure from their earlier albums, it’s more like thrash and really is more of a continuation of the path they were on. The main problem is that I think they really were a little too influenced by what happened in the four years between this album and its predecessor and were trying a little too hard. Like I said, it’s full of double-bass and fast guitars like thrash, stop-and-start and rapidly shifting time signatures, and I think there’s even some drop-tuning and odd meters in here. But they almost entirely forgot about the melodies. And in a world where great rock melodies are becoming more and more rare, it’s a shame for a hook-driven band like Skid Row to forgo the tunes.

There’s also clearly some tension going on creatively here. On Wikipedia, bassist Rachel Bolan has a quote saying the band “had fallen apart” and “the album sucks.” It’s pretty clear that the members of the band have very different ideas of where to go at this point. Most of the songs are made up of two to four sections that, on their own, are pretty good, but aren’t melded together into great songs. (It’s a bit like I Love You in that sense.) That mix-tape strategy can work (Metallica’s …And Justice For All being the best example), but most of the time things just feel scattershot, and that’s what your left with here.

There are some great hooks on this album (along with some not-so-great earworms), including a few very good songs. However, I don’t think there’s a single song that, a year from now, I’ll be able to name, much less hum, without a memory refresher. This is almost the canonical album that Fat Clown is for. The album that, when I look at it, I’ll have some vague recollection of how I felt about it, but for the life of me I won’t be able to know why I liked or disliked it or even really be sure that I’m remembering my opinion correctly.

So in the end, some shell of Skid Row walked away (this is their last album with Bach) from the hair metal dustbin with their head held high and cred intact. Crazy rhythms; atonal, shredding guitars; and a lower register for lead singer Sebastian Bach: it’s an intellectual, visceral album. The lack of hooks may have been them defiantly pointing out they were more than what history was labeling them. But without those hooks, did anybody notice? And without those hooks is it even Skid Row? Or just the sum of its parts?

– “My Enemy,” “Firesign,” “Medicine Jar”
– “Bonehead,” “Beat Yourself Blind,” “Eileen,” “Remains To Be Seen,” “Subhuman Race,” “Frozen,” “Into Another,” “Face Against My Soul,” “Breakin’ Down,” “Iron Will”
Filed Between: Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind and Skin Yard (Fist Sized Chunks)
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. My Enemy – seems confused. [later: i figured it out]
  2. Firesign – better than the first one. [later: no, it’s not. it’s more immediately accessible]
  3. Bonehead – Straight up thrash.
  4. Beat Yourself Blind – Every song is made better by a ride cymbal. Kind of a groove metal thing here, almost like Pantera. There’s also some Soundgarden influence, like this might be a drop tuning.
  5. Eileen – Really sounds like she wants him to sit and talk to cheese. Had to look it up. It’s trees she wants him to talk to. Interesting question there: why does ‘cheese’ sound so much more ridiculous? They’re both inanimate objects. Trees are just more majestic or something.
  6. Remains To Be Seen – this song and the prior are [what was I going to write here? I think it was that it is or that it starts maybe the weakest stretch on the album, which starts and ends pretty strong.]
  7. Subhuman Race – thrashy again.
  8. Frozen –
  9. Into Another – Almost broken. Gets boring, cliched toward end.
  10. Face Against My Soul –
  11. Medicine Jar – Could have fit on Slave To The Grind.
  12. Breakin’ Down – I think the closest they get on this album to a power ballad type thing.
  13. Iron Will – Has hidden track that is pretty far out of character. Very muffled sound and like an outtake of another version of “Bonehead.”

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