enuff-znuff

ENUFF Z’NUFF – Clowns Lounge

0005819193_200Back in the days of the late 80’s / early 90’s when glam, sleaze and melodic hard rock were on a high, record companies signed everything that had a catchy melody, long hair and at least one cute member. It goes without saying that we got gushed with mediocre bands that were in the business for all the wrong reasons, to get drunk, high, laid and only played said music because it was the thing to do back then. many of those musicians would jump right onto the grunge band wagon a few years later and some bands got way too much exposure, much more than they deserved. On the other hand, there were bands that had everything – the sound, the songs, the musicianship, the look and they loved what they played, but never went nowhere anyway. Then there were bands that were very much part of the scene but had the guts to think out of the box and at least tried to put their own stamp on the music they released. One of these bands was Enuff Z’Nuff from Blue Island, Illinois. The look they sported in the time of their self titled debut from 1989 made them look like one of Poison’s relatives, a lot of make-up, hair spray, spandex, colours and dyed hair, but musically the band was a different beast. Sure, they had a lot of the melodic hard rock vibes that were popular at the times, but their love of Beatles and Cheap Trick made them stand out. The fact that the band never got their big break is one of the big mysteries of rock, especially when their second album Strength (1991) today is looked upon as a melodic hard rock gem. That album should have made the band superstars in a fair world.

But the band had issues – issues that spelled hard drugs. Guitarist Derek Frigo, a guitar hero to be and a player that never got the attention he deserved, lost the battle with his heroin addiction on one fatal night in 2004, but by then he had left the band 10 years ago. Lead singer Donnie Vie has been battling the same thing for ages and has been in out of his own band several times. Still, with none of their now 12 albums being worse than good, this is a band that should be much bigger than the small club band they are today. Today, only bass player Chip Z’Nuff is the only original member left and he have also taken over lead vocal duties from the now departed – for health reasons – Vie, who still remains within the band’s inner circle as Chip’s right hand. Which brings us to the “new” album. I write “new” because it is indeed a new album, but it the songs aren’t new at all. No, this album is a collection of songs written and demoed before their debut album was released. According to the press release, the songs were found by Chip when it was time for the band to cut a new album and as the songs weren’t released before and many of them unfinished, Chip and his new boys –  guitarists Tony Fennell and Tory Stoffregen and drummer Erik Donner, left all the original parts that were played by Vie, Z’Nuff, Frigo and drummer Vikki Foxx in there as a base and rerecorded other parts. Exactly which parts that have been rerecorded is hard to say, but Frigo’s style shines everywhere and Vie’s voice is also there, so at least those parts have been kept. There are also some really cool guest appearances from back when, but I’ll get to those later.

Opener – and the only newly written tune on the album – “Dog On A Bone” features Chip on lead vocals and he proves to have a fine voice, not a far cry from his old mates’ and it sure is a true Enuff Z’Nuff rocker. It’s a catchy hard rocker where the Beatles meets Cheap Trick with a bit of Bowie thrown in-vibes marries fine with the more pop-metal waves, obviously a nod back to their Sunset Strip days. Yes, it’s a new tune but it could might as well been lifted from the vaults – a great track where old and new meets half way. “Runaway” comes with a really heavy riff but style wise, it sounds as if it was written back in the days of Strength even though parts of the song has this sign-of-the-times 1988 vibes. “Back In Time” is very catchy and very pop and while all the old Enuff Z’Nuff arrangements are present there is also a big AOR influence in the melodies that gives away that this must have been written somewhere around 1988 – it has all the 1988 signs all over it. Be that as it may, it’s a damn fine tune. “She Makes It Harder” has all the classic Enuff Z’Nuff ingredients of their early stuff, but this one also comes with a big Journey feel. The trippy hippie-laden turns that this band took to their hearts aren’t that prominent, though. The actual pop takes over the song pretty much, but it’s still a magnificent song. “Rockabye Dreamland” comes in a slower, more mid tempo pace and some melodic heaviness and it holds all the hippie style Beatles meets Cheap Trick sounds that they have been known and loved for, all with some magnificent Donnie Vie / Chip Z’Nuff vocal harmonies. It’s an amazing song and I can’t help but to wonder why this song didn’t show up on their debut. It could very well have resulted in that record’s big hit beside “Fly High Michelle” back then. “The Devil Of Shakespeare” is an interesting tune. Written and recorded in 2004, it’s not an Enuff Z’Nuff song per se, more of a Donnie and Chip recording with some guests. Jani Lane (1964 – 2011) of Warrant makes an excellent appearance on it and it also has James Young (Styx) on lead guitar. Style-wise, it sounds pretty much like a Cheap Trick song with David Bowie on vocals – Lane obviously knew his Bowie well. I just love the song.

“Radio” is a mold breaker here and even tough it is catchy as hell, I’m not that sure of this one. Still melodic rock all the way, it also sounds like a prototype for American pop-punk bands like Blink 182 and Sum 41, a genre I’m not that fond of. Of course, Enuff Z’Nuff plays in a higher league musically than any of those bands so I guess it gets away with an OK. “Good Luv” is another tune that doesn’t quite cut it. It’s not bad, it’s an ok rocker, but it lacks Enuff Z’Nuff’s personal touch and could easily be any unsigned glam band from the Sunset Strip back in 1988. Both Ratt and Aerosmith have songs called “Round And Round” and now Enuff Z’Nuff has one as well. But where both Ratt’s and Aerosmith’s songs are killers, this one isn’t. This is a standard sleaze rocker that goes in one ear and out the other and it doesn’t even sound like Enuff Z’Nuff. I totally get why this one didn’t end up on the debut. But “Nothing” brings the quality up again. A slow rocker with the classic Enuff Z’Nuff arrangements and big glam / power pop and hard rock vibes – great stuff. “Backstreet Kidz” also lacks the so important Enuff Z’Nuff sound but this catchy and uptempo little pop rocker still holds up very well. They close the album in the best possible way – with “One More Hit”, one the finest moments on this album. This is Enuff Z’Nuff all the way and would have fitted the debut like a glove.

For fans of this band, this album is a must. Sure, it shows a band sometimes a little bit too influenced by the sound of that late 80’s era and it shows that on a some songs, the band was still searching for their own sound. But it also shows – except on a few songs – what a pair of brilliant song writers Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff were. And still are. Some of the songs on this record are way too good to be kept in a vault and it’s somewhat strange that they haven’t seen the light of day until now. On the other side, there are also songs that works on an album like this, but if they had been released back in the day, they could easily have made Enuff Z’Nuff just another short-lived glam band that never would have made it past the clubs on Hollywood Blvd. But it feels really good to hear Vie’s voice and Frigo’s guitar once again and even though almost every song on this album comes from the past, the album is a lot better than many of the melodic hard rock albums released today. Recommended!

7/10

Tracklist:

1. Dog On A Bone
2. Runaway
3. Back In Time
4. She Makes It Harder
5. Rockabye Dreamland
6. Devil Of Shakespeare
7. Radio
8. Good Love
9. Round And Round
10. Nothing
11. Backstreet Kids
12. One More Hit