Looking back now, with this excellent five-disc retrospective spread out in front of me, several things flash across the mind, dredged from bourbon-soaked memory banks; just how great Skid Row actually were for a short while, for instance, and how they fell from grace in similarly short order for another. If Joe Elliot was right, and it really was better to burn out than fade away, then Skid Row’s career – in it’s original inception, at least – was the perfect example of hair metal crashing and burning done right.
The band’s debut, released in 1989, is almost perfect. Even forgotten gems like Midnight Tornado sound just as good now in all their junior Dokken glory as they did ‘back in the day’, whilst the established big hitters – Youth Gone Wild, I Remember You, 18 And Life – still stand tall amongst the best songs of their type ever committed to wax. And then some…
But hair metal had seen it’s best days by 1991, when the band returned with Slave To The Grind; pressured by the world and his wife to lose a bit of the glam and replace it with a bit of dirt-under-the-fingernails-heavy-metal-thunder, Monkey Business, The Threat and the title track did just that. Scotti Hill and Dave Szabo tuned down and rocked out, whilst Sebastian Bach unleashed an unholy mix of Halford and Dirkschneider from the bowels of somewhere or other, in the process causing us to believe that yes, Skid Row really had grown with the times. But for every action there’s a reaction, and STTG was filled with just too many slices of unconvincing filler to please either long-term fans or newbies attracted by the bike chain-swinging bravura of the title track.
Thoughtfully, label BMG don’t just give us the full length albums here, so you’ll get the 1992 stopgap B-Side Ourselves thrown in as a period piece curiosity; And whilst the throwaway take on the Ramones‘ Psycho Therapy may have simply served to remind us just how ‘punk’ bassist Rachel Bolan was, there are some fine morsels to be found, notably in a Hill-inspired take on the Hendrix classic Little Wing and a fine reading of the oft-overlooked Judas Priest classic Delivering The Goods. Both are worth the price of admission on their own.
1995’s Subhuman Race saw the band running on empty creatively, swamped by grunge and the burgeoning strains of nu-metal and riven by personality clashes that saw Bach growing steadily away from the rest of the band. Listening back now, in an age where harsh sounds and speedy rhythms have become second nature, the album doesn’t seem quite the stinker it was viewed as first time around; The title track is a piss n’vinegar-filled exercise in metal as catharsis, whilst final track Iron Will pointed to a possible future for the band as a bona-fide hard metal proposition should they have wanted it. But they didn’t, and the rest, as they say, is history.
This collection is rounded out by the inclusion of the band’s 1995 Live EP Subhuman Beings on Tour, which features a midlife-crisis stricken Rob Halford on a venomous, quite brilliant version of Deliver The Goods alongside Slave To The Grind, Monkey Business, Riot Act, Beat Yourself Blind and, inexplicably, another version of Psycho Therapy.
Bach was destined to roam the skyways Row-free for eternity, it seems, as the band elected to carry on with a variety of other vocalists rather than bury the hatchet; as that situation doesn’t look like resolving itself anytime soon, this set looks like a timely reminder of just how good the original lineup was, is, and always will be. Well worth a listen, especially if you missed out on the curio EPs first time around.
The Atlantic Years releases on December 3rd