SOUNDGARDEN – DOWN ON THE UPSIDE (1996)

URGE OVERKILL – Saturation (1993)

URGE OVERKILL – SATURATION June 8th, 1993, URGE OVERKILL released their fourth album Saturation. The album was their first on Geffen Records and was produced by The Butcher Brothers.

No doubt, many reading this will only know Urge Overkill as the band who had a hit covering Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” for the Pulp Fiction soundtrack in 1994.

Truth is, the band had a stellar run of albums before their inclusion on that soundtrack. Urge Overkill formed in Chicago in 1986. Nathan Kaatrud, who took the stage name Nash Kato (vocals/guitar), and Eddie “King” Roeser (vocals/guitar/bass guitar) were the driving force behind the band’s formation. They released their debut EP in 1986 titled Strange, I…, on Ruthless Records. The EP was recorded by Kato’s friend Steve Albini. The full-length album Jesus Urge Superstar soon followed, again produced by Albini, and with Kriss Bataille on the drums.

Second album American Cruiser, released in 1990, was produced by Butch Vig and featured Jack “Jaguar” Watt on drums. 1991’s The Supersonic Storybook, was again produced by Albini and featured Blackie Onassis (real name, John Rowan) on drums. This change of drummer formed what is considered the classic line-up of the band.

Kurt Cobian had long been a fan and supporter of Urge Overkill. In many photos and live appearances at the time, Kurt can be seen wearing an Urge Overkill T-shirt. On Kurt’s request Nirvana invited Urge Overkill to open the American leg of the Nevermind tour.

The band returned to the studio to record their second EP Stull in 1992, which featured the track “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”, two years later this cover would be chosen by Quinten Tarantino for the soundtrack of his 1994 film Pulp Fiction.

As 1993 rolled around, the band jumped from their indie label Touch & Go to major label Geffen Records. The band took some criticism for the change to a major label. In 1992 Touch & Go were considered bastions of indie-cred. But Urge Overkill had a punk aesthetic in the truest sense. The root of punk rock is non-conformity. Not political leanings, teenage angst or the chaotic or even systematic dismantling of various establishments. It’s all about refusing to do what everyone else is doing, and in that regard, Urge Overkill, willfully went against the grain.

“Everything we did prior to Saturation was done for a bag of weed and a six pack” said Nash Kato “There was no rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. With Touch & Go we had 72 hours to experiment and realize a record. We never had this kind of freedom before. We just couldn’t have made Saturation over a weekend.”

Despite this, Urge Overkill were anything but punk in sound. In a time where the grunge rock subculture had become the zeitgeist, it’s probably worth asking where did these velvet suit-jacketed, highball drinking, cigar chomping lounge lizards with raging, classic rock guitar riffs fit into the picture?

“We knew what was going on. We were aware of the musical climate…” Kato said. Eddie “King” Roeser adds “We didn’t want to come off as a self-serious Alice in Chains, That image was in vogue…Nirvana was as dark as it comes but they had a sense of humor, which was probably why we got along with them.”

Saturation saw Nash Kato sing lead on the majority of the album and not King Roeser. Whereas Roeser generally sang most of the lead vocals on previous Urge Overkill albums.

Saturation opens with lead single, the infectious barnburner “Sister Havana”. A ’90s rock classic. Sister Havana is infused with a bristling energy, it’s a kaleidoscopic take on the rock lineage that came before, updated and shot through the canon of ’90s rock flare. It’s a pure adrenaline rush and one of the band’s finest moments.

For Saturation, the used producers the Butcher Bros. (Phil and Joe Nicolo), who were the founders of Ruffhouse Records and hot off producing Cypress Hill (amongst a slew of others). This was a major shift from hitting the studio with Albini and Vig. The brothers keep the production tight and the riffs to the fore. Urge Overkill was firing on all cylinders and the producers made sure they captured that energy. With singles like “Positive Bleeding” they emphasized their pop-rock sensibilities to the point where it’s easy to imagine Cheap Trick fans having no problem attending the party.

“Woman 2 Woman” “Bottle Of Fur” and “Crackbabies” are tracks lovers of the ’90s alternative rock sound could easily get behind. Urge Overkill deliver songs with one key difference to the prevailing musical winds of the time, the lack of palpable angst. The album is full of adrenalized guitar riffs and hook laden romps, but little of the dark introspection so prominent in 1993.

A song like “The Dropout” see’s the The Butcher Brothers hand more readily used, it’s a trip into folk-electronica and quite different for the band. “Erica Kane” is a late-album banger replete with a slower mid-section. “Nite and Grey” offers touches of ZZ Top.

Urge Overkill loaded Saturation with clever twists of phrasing and light humour behind the hard rock riffs. If you don’t properly tune in you might miss the playfulness entirely. They’re a band worthy of the adulation many of their ’90s peers are lavished with on a regular basis. They were a different proposition on the musical landscape at that time. And that’s saying a lot, considering the incredible diversity in the alternative rock scene of the early ’90s.

Saturation for many is Urge Overkill’s finest album, it’s easy to see why. Truth is, the band has been solidly consistent throughout their career. The follow up, 1995’s Exit The Dragon is, like Saturation, stone cold perfection. But as with the way of the world, and Urge Overkill’s story in general, it too was not met with the adulation, sales and love it so rightly deserves.

Forget “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon”. Urge Overkill is much more than that one cover song. A delve into their music will be as rewarding as anything you’ll do. It is a rich, deep and rocking catalogue of memorable, life affirming songs. And Saturation is the perfect place to start.