By Carl Begai
Maybe it was a full moon, the previous evening’s entertainment, or a case of pre-flight jitters, but my first run through Kicking & Screaming left me cold and underwhelmed. Bach’s voice was shot full of holes, the songs were toothless, and there were too many damn ballads to be take the album title seriously. The 21-year-old fanboy rattling inside my brain was having none of it, however, and for the next month at home in Toronto the album received regular airplay on a set of cheap-ass portable iPod speakers (due to a bizarre gardening accident involving the car stereo). Slowly but surely, Kicking & Screaming revealed its true self. By the time it hit the big metalhead approved junk-in-the-trunk office sound system, there was no choice but to drown those first impressions.
Putting the bottom line before wiseguy prose, this is the album Skid Row wishes they could cough up. Call it shades and reflections of the Skids’ classic first two albums (the self-titled debut and Slave To The Grind). And while there’s no ‘Youth Gone Wild’, ’18 & Life’ or ‘Monkey Business’ to be had after a dozen listens, it far surpasses anything Baz’ former bandmates have done since Johnny Sollinger was tapped to try and follow the Bacharoo Banzai Show.
The jury is still out on whether it overpowers Bach’s previous ton of bricks, Angel Down, as Kicking & Screaming is a grower that has to be absorbed over time rather than pounded back like a free Jäger shot.
The record shows promise with the title track and four-on-the-floor ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, but it’s third song in, ‘Tunnelvision’, that kicks things into gear with a dark Slave To The Grind feel and Bach’s full vocal program. New guitarist Nick Sterling’s playing is an updated take on the Snake Sabo / Scotti Hill duo rolled into one – more convincing as a groove player rather than a shredhead – giving Bach deep pockets (finally) to seek, find and yank out the hooks. And there are tons of ’em. As a result, it’s hard not get sucked into the brawl of ‘Tunnelvision’, the stellar ‘Dance On Your Grave’, ‘Dirty Power’, ‘One Good Reason’, and the respectable ‘80s cheese of ‘As Long As I Got The Music’.
The record offers up three ballad-esque bits – which is two too many for these ears – with only ‘I’m Alive’ weighing in with the clout of an ‘I Remember You’.
The vocals versus personal taste will ultimately earn Kicking & Screaming the pass / fail grade. Whether it’s Mother Nature proving he’s hit his 40s or by design, Bach’s trademark raging howler monkey delivery is secondary to his melodic mid-range and an all too often overlooked lower register (see ‘I’m Alive’). When he does lay down the gut-to-throat grit, as on ‘Dance On Your Grave’, ‘One Good Reason’, ‘Tunnelvision’, and ‘Dirty Power’, you kinda wish he’d pushed the envelope for the entire record. That said, Kicking & Screaming is nowhere near the agonizingly painful disappointment of something like Rob Halford’s 2010 outing, Made Of Metal, which was far too tentative for a metal god.
Hell, let’s be honest; Kicking & Screaming is an unexpected and welcome kick in the teeth once it hits cruising speed.
In the end, Bach is cursed to have anything he does weighed against his Skid Row days because he gave the band its identity; a like-it-or-lump-it situation for him and the diehard fans. Kicking & Screaming will be viewed by most followers as the closest either party has come to the glory days of those first two albums. At the very least Bach has earned bragging rights this time out, and that well worn middle finger in the air is more than justified.