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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Ugly Kid Joe, "Menace to Sobriety"

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Ugly Kid Joe – "Menace to Sobriety"

Ugly Kid Joe – "Menace to Sobriety"

Ugly Kid Joe – Menace to Sobriety

Released: 1995
Mercury Records

Ugly Kid Joe struck gold right out of the box. Just when it seemed like the Hair Metal craze had reached its peak, this humorous, snot-nosed hard rock quintet from Southern California went from playing local keg parties to the top of the charts thanks to the sarcastic single "Everything About You," which crashed the top ten in the U.S. and vaulted their debut six-song EP, As Ugly As They Wanna Be, to multi-platinum status virtually overnight.

"Everything About You" quickly became an MTV and radio staple, appeared in the hit film Wayne's World, and soon Ugly Kid Joe was touring the world opening for hard rock luminaries like Ozzy Osbourne and Def Leppard. The 1992 full-length debut, America's Least Wanted, followed its predecessor into the top 40 and scored another hit with a cover of Harry Chapin's "Cats In the Cradle."

Ugly Kid Joe had it all . . . for about a year. Then the hard rock scene turned on a dime. Seattle was "in," Southern California was "out," and when Ugly Kid Joe returned in 1995 with their second full-length release, Menace to Sobriety, hardly anyone was listening . . . which is an absolute tragedy because dammit, it's their best album!!

Ugly Kid Joe official promo photo

Ugly Kid Joe official promo photo

The Album

When Ugly Kid Joe hit the studio to record Menace in 1994, they had two secret weapons in their arsenal: they'd replaced drummer Mark Davis with Shannon Larkin, a skilled skinsman who had cut several solid, but underappreciated, albums with the Maryland based thrash act Wrathchild America (later known as Souls At Zero). His superior talents on the kit went a long way towards giving the new material more punch.

Producer Garth Richardson (aka "GGGarth") who'd made a name for himself working with modern hard rock acts like L7, the Melvins, and Rage Against the Machine, scraped off the radio-friendly sheen that had marked most of UKJ's earlier works. Menace to Sobriety bears an edgier, more organic sound which proved that these skateboarding booger-flickers were actually a pretty damn HEAVY metal band under their goofball exterior.

The Tracks

Menace to Sobriety kicks off with a two-minute instrumental "Intro," which lures you in with its riffy goodness, then smacks you upside the head with the first proper track "God," a chugging number which showcases vocalist Whitfield Crane at his snarly best. The moody "Tomorrow's World" builds around a snaky, lumbering bass foundation by Cordell Crockett. (Cordell is the unsung hero of Menace to Sobriety, by the way . . . his punchy, crunchy bass work provides unexpected highlights all over this album!!)

"Clover" and "C.U.S.T" (the initials stand for "Can't U See Them") are faster paced tracks full of swagger, with slammin' drums by Larkin and Crane screaming for all he's worth. Things slow down briefly on the "Milkman's Son," which almost feels like a sequel to UKJ's cover of "Cats in the Cradle" with its themes of loss and loneliness.

Once again, Whit Crane shines and shows what a versatile vocalist he really is, and the song's chorus sticks in your head like glue. "Suckerpath" is another slow-n-moody metal cut that's bookended by another ballad, the mellow "Cloudy Skies." Before you start getting the idea that Ugly Kid Joe has gone and became some kind of sensitive new-age metal act, the band throws us back to their humorous earlier days on the irresistible, hilarious "Jesus Rode A Harley" and the scathing "V.I.P.," an ode to music-industry phonies that drips with venom and sarcasm.

"10/10" and "Oompa Song" are the only two throwaways on the album—the former is a standard but not terribly exciting thrash cut and the latter is an irritating joke song with Crane bellowing nursery-rhyme nonsense at the top of his lungs while the band rages behind him. The closing track "Candle Song" is another ballad and it ends things on a stylish and highly satisfying note.

What Went Wrong?

So why didn't Menace to Sobriety catch on? Well, duh . . . it was 1995. The band and album were totally out of step with the then-current musical climate at the time. "Milkman's Son" and "Tomorrow's World" were released as singles, though neither had much impact, and the album notched a lowly #178 on the U.S. Billboard charts before disappearing.

In short, Menace to Sobriety sank faster than JFK Junior, which is a shame because the album signaled an amazing amount of growth for a band that had previously been considered a "joke" or a "one-hit wonder." If only more people had been listening!!

The album fared slightly better overseas, where the scribes at England's Kerrang! magazine championed it as one of the finest hard-rock releases of the year, but it was pretty clear that Ugly Kid Joe's fifteen minutes of fame were up. Dropped from Mercury Records, the band managed to limp along for a few more years and released one more album, Motel California, in 1996 on Castle Records before quietly calling it a day.

They're Back!!

Happily, the Ugly Kid Joe story wasn't completely finished. In 2010, the boys announced that they were getting back together to write new material, which resurfaced in 2012 as a self-released six-track EP titled, in typical UKJ fashion, Stairway to Hell. Ugly Kid Joe spent that summer gigging the European festival circuit and opening shows for Guns N' Roses in Israel. A music video for the track "Devil's Paradise" showed that Ugly Kid Joe hadn't lost their edge.

Two more full-length albums, Uglier Than They Used Ta Be and Rad Wings Of Destiny, were released on the band's own UKJ Records label in 2015 and 2022, respectively.

It's great Ugly Kid Joe was able to make a comeback. I hope to see them in concert someday so I might get the chance to hear the new stuff—and maybe some of Menace to Sobriety—live and in person!!

© 2012 Keith Abt


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 18, 2016:


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 01, 2013:

Hi Thief - Up until the disappointing "Motel California" disc everything this band did was gold!!

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on August 01, 2013:

Pretty good album, but the first one still remains as one of my favorite rock albums from that time. It would be hard to top it.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on December 26, 2012:

Thanx, bat! Glad you dug.

Tim from Los Angeles, CA on December 26, 2012:

Did not know they were back together and releasing new stuff! Devil's Paradise is a rockin' Tune. I always thought they were an underrated band. 'Everything' was the anthem of my Junior High day.

As usual, another awesome hub.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 23, 2012:

Thanx OldWitchcraft! Glad you enjoyed the piece, even if the band isn't your cup of java.

OldWitchcraft from The Atmosphere on October 23, 2012:

Interesting. That looks like the same lead singer. He doesn't look too bad considering the years. I used to have a friend who was a groupie. She kissed and told a lot - and those private details are all I remember about this band, except for the "Neighbors" song. These guys were never my style. Although, after listening to the video at the end of the article, I have to say it isn't terrible.

Vote up!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 23, 2012:

Hi, the-daddy: I knew the album got love from the European rock press, and did fairly well outside their homeland... it's just a bummer for me as an American U.K.J. fan because I LOVED that record and it seems like I'm the only one who remembers it here!! :)

the-daddy on October 23, 2012:

believe it or not, but castle communications took on UKJ for the Motel California release, due to Menace selling 5o0 000 albums what if the USA didn't catch on?

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 23, 2012:

Glad I could be of assistance, Nat.

Nat Amaral from BC Canada on October 23, 2012:

Awesome article. I remember this album and group--they were amazing. Thanks for the info--I thought they broke up. It was because of you that I found out I was wrong.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 23, 2012:

Thanks for the comments y'all.

@ sparkster - I agree, "Motel California" was a flop, it leaned too much on their "funky" influence and toned down the metal, the result was a plain ol' nothin' special 90s rock album.

@FreedomMetal - I would bet that most people haven't heard this album (hence its "Forgotten" status), so you're not alone... :)

FreedomMetal from Somewhere In Time on October 23, 2012:

I have never actually heard this album - now it's added to my want list!

Marc Hubs from United Kingdom on October 23, 2012:

I used to love this band back in the 90's but after two awesome albums they went downhill, I think it must have been Motel California which was awful, they just seemed to lose it.

I'm glad they're back though, I'll definitely be checking out their new material. I notice a lot of the old rock bands from the nineties are making a huge independent rock movement at the moment with new albums (Kiss, Van Halen, etc).

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 23, 2012:

Glad you dug, Cryptid. I agree, they were a great live band. I saw them in a little club in New York City opening for Scatterbrain (remember them?) in early '92, nobody knew who they were yet but they rocked the place. About six weeks later, "Everything About You" blew up huge and suddenly they were everywhere! At least I can say I knew them before they got famous. :)

cryptid from USA on October 23, 2012:

Good Hub. Brings back nice memories! I had the privileged of seeing these guys open for Def Leppard in the summer of '93 and they were pretty good live. (Aside: Def Leppard blew me away . . . one of the best live bands I've ever seen.) Anyway, Ugly Kid Joe maybe weren't glam metal, but their music was lumped into the commercial hard rock thing. You're right that they came around at the wrong time, when grunge was taking off, and that probably hurt them a lot. I liked them though; they were a fun band.