Monday, October 10, 2011

Worth the Effort: Exit the Dragon - Urge Overkill - 1995

Remember 1995? The internet was still brand-spanking new and we all still bought records in record stores and you didn't swap files or sample snippets. You discovered great bands live, at the recommendation of a friend or simply by chance and followed them. Even researching a discography was a chore and you could still be surprised by a dusty record bin find of a platter you never knew existed by your favorite band. Alternative radio had experienced a boom since 1992 and for a music-loving kid in college, these were golden years.

Urge Overkill were unique even among the alternative set. They had the swagger of modern day Stones, punk roots and knew how to crank out rock at home on radio without taking themselves too seriously. Pulp Fiction thrust them into the mass consciousness even after their commercial breakthrough with Saturation and, still, they carried themselves as if they were in on a joke, playing the rock star role in an age of antiheroes. Until Exit the Dragon, of course, where the myth became reality and it all, eventually, fell apart. And Exit the Dragon was the first Urge record that made enough of an impression to part me with my elusive money.

It was a downer. A beautiful downer. They could be as unhappy as the rest of the pack but with beautiful guitars and crisp production. And they looked the rock-star part, which was refreshing in those flannel years. I was thrilled. This was my band, my discovery (at least among my admittedly small crowd). I snatched Saturation and Stull, mail-ordered (remember mail order?) some backcatalogue items from Touch-and-Go and was happy as a clam when the tour came to Cincinnati.

Then I saw it wasn't just a lyric or a theme. It was real. The band played as though they hated each other, hated the audience and, a few months later, I read it was all over. I took it personally and packed Urge Overkill away for a while.

With plenty of favorite band break-ups come and gone since then, I open up the Urge archive regularly now and, with this record in particular, am happily transported to a simpler, sweeter time - and it's so close in the past. A band that seemed superficial then seems downright quaint and homemade compared to today's product. The content is rocking but real. Glam and glossy but with so much beneath the surface. There was no hit single, true. This was a true "album" with no running lyrical theme but a distinct feel all its own. It's dark and cold and rainy and confused but it's got the spark of optimism that comes with the new dawn, too (one that was eventually realized on the glorious return to recording, Rock & Roll Submarine). It serves as one of the last great monuments of a beautiful time in music that appeared almost overnight and disappeared so devastatingly quickly that it is almost emotionally painful to remember. It's worth the effort, friends.

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