Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 5: Urge Overkill, "Positive Bleeding"

Artist: Urge Overkill
Song: "Positive Bleeding"
Album: Saturation
Year: 1993

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While many bands and dedicated fans may try and make it seem untrue, it is hard to argue that the "point" of making music is anything less than sharing sounds and songs with the masses.  Or, to put it another way, bands are trying to get famous.  Yet over the course of music history, many groups have tried to "play it cool" when they achieved commercial success, and this attitude often puts off those who helped them to that place.  Then of course, there are the handful of bands that make no excuses for their want of fame, and this sense of honest often brings with it some of the finest music, and in many cases, brilliant satire.  It was the combination of these two elements that, along with the ideal amount of attitude that set Urge Overkill far apart from their peers, and one can experience their unique musical mastery within their magnificent 1993 release, Saturation.  As their "major label" debut, the album makes no excuses, and while the persona's of the band members are hard to forget, the group does a fantastic job of ensuring that this image in no way impacts the actual music.  Filled with heavy riffs and an similarly aggressive tone, Urge Overkill manages to find a way to infuse an undeniably pop feel into almost every song, and it is this element that helps the songs to endure nearly two decades later.  Though it was largely overshadowed by the albums' surprise single, there is no other song that better defines the unique brilliance that is Urge Overkill than what one can experience within their 1993 track, "Positive Bleeding."

From the moment that "Positive Bleeding" begins, the song grabs the listener and refuses to let them go.  The moody, powerful opening chords of the song set a perfect stage for the classic sound that will follow, and yet there is also a clear punk feel within the riff played by Nash Kato.  Yet it is the moments that follow the opening riff that highlight the true talents of Urge Overkill, as they quickly change the mood to a more pop-centric, almost retrained sound.  However, this tone that the group finds also manages to fit perfectly with the "grunge" sound that was beginning to dominate the musical landscape, and yet can easily argue that their sound was far more "classic rock" than punk.  As the song veers through the various stages, Kato's guitar seems to fluctuate in tone, and it is this aspect that clearly displays the true power of the instrument, as it is this sound alone that pushes the mood up and down.  It is also the way in which Kato's guitar progressions and solos interlock with the bassline from Eddie "King" Roeser that push "Positive Bleeding" into a class all its own, and the bass is far more forward in the mix than on most songs.  Rounding out the band is drummer Johnny "Blackie Onassis" Rowan, and it is within his playing that the more aggressive side of the song lives.  There is a unique balance between the more modern, more aggressive style, and the classic sound of rock and roll that can be found on "Positive Bleeding," and it is this interplay that highlights the distinctive sound of Urge Overkill.

Yet as catchy and powerful as the music is on "Positive Bleeding," it is hard to find any Urge Overkill song where the focus moves far from the vocals of Nash Kato.  Possessing one of the most instantly recognizable voices in all of music history, both in terms of tone as well as vocal range, Kato knows few equals.  While he is perhaps best known for his bass-level vocals on the bands' biggest hit, throughout "Positive Bleeding," he shows his complete range, and the energy within his voice is impossible to ignore.  It is also this energy that drives the mood of the song, and as his voice soars during the chorus sections, the more upbeat, light-hearted side of the band becomes more apparent.  Yet when Kato returns to his meandering, almost nervous sound on the verses, a completely different mood can be felt, and this ability to present such varied emotions on a song is a rare occurrence within music.  Furthermore, there is not a moment where any of Kato's singing seems forced or disingenuous, and the straightforward, unapologetic lyrics on "Positive Bleeding" highlight this aspect of the song.  Though many artists have made similar observations, there is a simple brilliance when Kato sings, "...look around today...everything don't need to be the same..."  Not only does this lyric speak directly to the nature of society, but it also points out Urge Overkill's purposeful attempt at being unique, and Kato's vocals express this perfectly in every way throughout the entire song.

Strangely enough, "Positive Bleeding" would become one of the bands' best known songs, and yet it was almost "lost" behind the surprise hit single from the album, "Sister Havana," as well as the groups' cover of Neil Diamond that was featured in the film, Pulp Fiction.  Yet even with these two realities, there is no question that it is "Positive Bleeding" which best captures everything that makes Urge Overkill such a superb band, and few groups since have been able to match their sound or attitude.  It is the way in which the band is able to fuse together the punk attitude with the musical freedom of "classic rock" that makes their songs so unforgettable, and the "no filler" approach from punk also helps to keep their sound quite focused.  There is a steady, smooth flow to all of "Positive Bleeding," and the ease with which the band seems to be playing is only equaled by the enjoyment that one can feel within their sound.  In many ways, it is this element that was missing from a majority of other bands at the time, making a case that these other groups had missed the "point" of being in a rock band.  However, while Urge Overkill are quite direct in their want for a song with popular appeal, it in no way compromises their sound, and one can quickly understand and appreciate their unique ability to strike this balance within their phenomenal 1993 song, "Positive Bleeding."

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