Skid Row – The Atlantic Years 

Skid Row The Atlantic Years Album Cover Art

Skid Row – The Atlantic Years 
BMG
Release Date: 03/12/21
Running Time: 3:16:33
Review by Simon Black
Skid Row – 9/10
Slave to the Grind – 10/10
B-Side Ourselves – 6/10
Subhuman Race – 2/10
Subhuman Beings on Tour!! – 4/10
Overall – 7/10

Just in time for Christmas, its celebratory box set time again. This time I’ve got both the rise and fall of one of the most influential Metal acts to emerge from the fag end of the 1980’s in one five disk set. To be fair the tag line to this box set probably ought to be “You’re never too big to open for Kiss”…

There was a time when I was a lot younger, that this band seemed unstoppable, Having emerged out of left field with their debut “Skid Row”; an album that despite having one foot very firmly in the commercial sound of the eighties, was also a little more edgy in its delivery, had a beautiful full fat and rich sound, and some of the most distinctively anthemic tunes anyone had heard in a while. This is why ’18 And Life’, ‘Youth Gone Wild’ and ‘I Remember You’ continue to drop up on TV and movie soundtracks to this day. But despite having some of the most radio friendly set of singles of the entire decade, there was also something different about these guys. For a commercial act, you could still hear a little of that down-tuned heaviness that, up to that point, had largely been the territory of the Thrash end of the spectrum even on this debut, but yet with a frontman with a set of lungs on him gifted to very few on this earth. The world (and more importantly for the time, MTV) thought so too, and these fellows rapidly found themselves flying around the world with some spectacular opening slots for the likes of Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, guaranteeing that when they made it to Europe for smaller shows they did it as headliners from the get go. 

And from then on upwards and upwards was their trajectory.

The sophomore “Slave To The Grind” wasn’t so much a follow up as a sledgehammer in the face. The down-tuned heaviness, just hinted at on their debut, was now a full on force of nature which, from the opening bars of the seminal ‘Monkey Business’, proved that this was not a band to do things by halves. For my money this is the definitive Skid Row album, with not a bad track on it and a band that now had not only the confidence to play it their way (because let’s face it the more commercial sound from 1989 almost certainly came at the label’s insistence). Being taken round the world with Guns ’N’ Roses at their peak meant that everyone else got to find that out too, and with the band headlining arenas in their own right, it seemed like the world was their oyster.

Then Grunge happened.

Personally I think that the heavier sounding second album and its huge momentum would probably have allowed them to keep snowballing upwards (albeit perhaps more slowly), but they chose to instead listen to manager Doc McGhee and take a long hiatus to ride the new upstart musical movement out, which is where the filler release of “B-Side Ourselves” comes in. The tracks on here were all B sides from the ‘Slave’ sessions. At five tracks it’s clearly a contract placeholder and it did little for them at the time, as around them the musical landscape was changing permanently. I heard them all at the time, as in those days I used to get nice vinyl 12” single releases from East West / Atlantic. This was so much of a stop gap cost cutter that the label didn’t even send out DJ copies on the grounds we already had the material on the 12” releases, but with hindsight this was the beginning of the end.

When “Subhuman Race” was finally released in 1995, its initial sales success was almost entirely based on expectation of continuity of service, but this was miniscule to the success they had previously enjoyed. We could not have been more disappointed. McGhee’s bum advice had continued to lead them in the wrong direction, with a release that was desperately trying to say “Hey, we can play Grunge too”. They couldn’t, and more importantly they shouldn’t and should have stuck to their big guns.

First off, there was none of the fat, rich, deep and heavy sound that made them so distinctive. Instead the whole thing sounds flat and lacklustre and worse still, cheap. I remember watching them at a half empty Waldorf Astoria in London, wondering what the hell had happened to such a promising band. A desperate Bach asked the thin crowd if we liked the new album, and getting little in the way of a positive response, pointed out that he really busted his voice on recording that one. But then Bach pushing his voice down and gravelly to follow the trend of the day ultimately ended up falling flat on his face, and was a complete waste of one of the best singers of the time (although ironically he probably finds it easier to hit those notes these days since he seems to have joined the Vince Neil school of Youth Gone Old). 

What followed was the inevitable downward slide, and a parting of the ways, when Bach threw the towel in after Sabo allegedly cancelled a support slot for the reforming Kiss that Bach had previously confirmed. Had they done that slot they would have been playing stadia to a receptive crowd and ridden the period out (although ironically they did end up supporting Kiss a few years later, but not to anything like the same size audiences as that Kiss and Make Up reunion had offered).

The coda to the box set is a short EP of live tracks from their Subhuman Tour, but it’s all over by now, and this is clearly intended to deliver on contractual commitments with the label. It’s worthwhile to note that only one track from that ill-chosen studio album made it to this disk, so everyone had clearly got the message on that fateful (and indeed, awful) third studio release. That saves it from the doldrums, as whilst playing their stronger material rather than trying to sound like they had relocated to Seattle, the Skids were totally in their zone even then. From the sound of the recording though, you can tell they are playing much smaller venues, and when you exclude the padding track of the band telling everyone in the Japanese market how wonderful they are, is really a marker of just how far they had fallen after their meteoric rise. 

When they were good, they were very, very good but when they were bad, they were horrid.

What happened in later years, with a revolving door of players and singers, to be honest has not even registered on my radar, as frankly Skid Row to me begins and ends with the line-up that cut these disks. This is simultaneously heart-warming and depressing, with the first three disks on here representing that even in an age when Metal had become dangerously formulaic, that an act could still come out of the back stalls and punch their way to the top of the musical totem pole. 

Equally it shows that a couple of ill thought out management decisions have the capacity to utterly destroy a career.

TRACKLISTING:
Skid Row
01. Big Guns
02. Sweet Little Sister
03. Can’t Stand the Heartache
04. Piece of Me
05. 18 and Life
06. Rattlesnake Shake
07. Youth Gone Wild
08. Here I Am
09. Makin’ a Mess
10. I Remember You
11. Midnight / Tornado

Slave to the Grind
01. Monkey Business
02. Slave to the Grind
03. The Threat
04. Quicksand Jesus
05. Psycho Love
06. Get the Fuck Out
07. Livin’ on a Chain Gang
08. Creepshow
09. In a Darkened Room
10. Riot Act
11. Mudkicker
12. Wasted Time

B-Side Ourselves
01. Psycho Therapy
02. Little Wing
03. C’mon and Love Me
04. What You’re Doing
05. Delivering the Goods (Live)

Subhuman Race
01. My Enemy
02. Firesign
03. Bonehead
04. Beat Yourself Blind
05. Eileen
06. Remains to be Seen
07. Subhuman Race
08. Frozen
09. Into Another
10. Face Against My Soul
11. Medicine Jar
12. Breakin’ Down
13. Iron Will

Subhuman Beings on Tour!!
01. Slave To The Grind (Live)
02. Delivering The Goods (Live)
03. Beat Yourself Blind (Live)
04. Psycho Therapy (Live)
05. Riot Act (Live)
06. Monkey Business (Live)
07. Thanks

LINE-UP:
Sebastian Bach – Vocals
Dave ‘The Snake’ Sabo – Guitar
Scotti Hill – Guitar
Rachel Bolan – Bass
Rob Affuso – Drums

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

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