BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.
The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.
These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
WARRANT – ULTRAPHOBIC (1995)
In 1995, the commercial fortunes of bands most associated with the 80’s metal scene were poor at best. Grunge now ruled the world of music and I guess that might account for why Warrant’s fourth album is a decidedly open affair mixing both metal and grunge into sound of the music.
Unfortunately, this really didn’t work all that well. While bringing on Rick Steir and James Kottak from Kingdom Come to replace Joey Allen and Steven Sweet respectively, the resulting album failed to fire much in the way of imagination. Or at least that’s what I’ve read when researching this album. I say that because by 1995, I was long gone from the Warrant camp. Actually I was done with them after the Cherry Pie album. I hadn’t moved on to grunge (though I did like the first couple of Pearl Jam albums), but rather I just never really got into Warrant as much as many of their far more hardcore fans did.
The Ultraphobic album does come off sounding, at times, far more aggressive and gritty than would normally be associated with the band. The slick sound was given more of a raw production feel. Probably one of the best examples of this was the opening track “Undertow”. You can hear just how much the band went about incorporating the grunge “aesthetic” to the music. It’s probably the best out of the six songs on side one of the album, but not necessarily one that I would rush around trying to play again.
There’s a darker vibe to the songwriting which has apparently been attributed to the now deceased singer Jani Lane’s divorce at the time of the album’s recording.
I see this album as attempt by Warrant to stay relevant in the ever-changing musical landscape, but it really did nothing to call out to either their past or potentially future fans. Out of the eleven tracks on the album, there are really only two that I would consider worthwhile additions to their catalog. The first is the song “Live Inside Of You”. It leads off side two of the cassette and after the first six songs being an exercise in futility (to my ears anyway), it is the song that most resembles the fast paced rocker the band did so well on their first two albums.
The other song is the closing track “Stronger Now”. Written by Jani Lane, it deals with the aforementioned divorce. It’s just his vocal and a spare musical arrangment and it sounds wonderful. However, I did notice that some of the lyrics end up taking on more poignancy given the circumstances of Lane’s alchol related death in 2011.
I really wish I’d liked this album more but it just comes off as pandering to the prevailing musical tides of the time of its release while cynically expecting to keep their initial fan base as well. This is one album I won’t find myself playing again.
Notes of Interest: The band is still around today and released a new studio album called Louder Harder Faster in 2017 with their current singer Robert Mason.
Drummer James Kottak was out of the band by 1996 but joined The Scorpions and stayed with them for 20 years before being ousted in 2016.