Without being a fan of Ugly Kid Joe as such, I always thought that Whitfield Crane was one of the most underrated metal singers around. When he fronted Life Of Agony for a short while during the tail end of the nineties, I had the good fortune to experience him live at the Ozzfest in the UK - and what a rush to see him compared to the introvert Keith Caputo! I was really chuffed at his ability to sound like Caputo and at the same time his showmanship.
Fast forward to August 2013. Ugly Kid Joe are back together and play the Wacken festival. Is it cool? Yes, it's cool. Crane and his gang put on a solid performance in the afternoon heat and generally impressed with their presence and material.
It was also during the Wacken gig that I realized that new material from the Californians was on the way. 'Is it relevant?' some probably asked themselves. I think that most of those present during the Wacken gig left with a feeling that Ugly Kid Joe anno 2013 is still a relevant element in the hardrock/metal scene.
The thing about 'Starway To Hell' is that, as the title indicates, it's really a tribute to hardrock and (early) metal. From the very first note, it's obvious that you're in a for real rock treatment. Catchy riffs, a rock solid rhythm section and Crane's fantastic voice combined with an excellent mix and production. AC/DC, Ozzy, Priest, there's a bit of them all in there. The two first tracks, Devil's Paradise and You Make Me Sick, aren't really surprising as such, just really good hardrock tunes. The third, No One Survices, did surprise me a bit at first; it draws heavily on Alice In Chains as main influence, and it sounds terrific! I'm Alright is also a great hardrock tune and not a big surprise, whereas Love Ain't True offers the second big surprise of this release; Crane's vocal performance isn't a far cry from what he did with Life Of Agony. Nice one!
Another Beer is the kind of song which doesn't do anything for me. Probably meant as a bit of a joke with a country touch, but really not my kind of thing.
As I told you already, I never really was a fan back in the day. This is probably also why I didn't notice how sad Cats in the Cradle actually is. The acoustic version included on 'Stairway to Hell' was a bit of a wake-up call for me. Damn, it's a good song! And bloody sad, too! Wonderful piece of music. Would You Like to be There from 'Motel California' is also a great piece in the acoustic version, and the acoustic rendition of No One Survives likewise.
Except for Another Beer, 'Stairway To Hell' is a great album with cool references to rock history. Rock solid riffs, great production and great musicianship. What more do you need?