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UGLY KID JOE (Buy CDs by this artist)
As Ugly as They Wanna Be (Stardog) 1991
America's Least Wanted (Stardog/Mercury) 1992
Menace to Sobriety (Mercury) 1995
Motel California (Evilution) 1996

If one's only contact with this Santa Barbara quintet was the obnoxious image of its bird-flipping cartoon brat or the antagonistic lyrics of its 1992 hit single, "Everything About You," one might have felt a twinge of pity that Green Day came along and wrecked their party. In fact, Ugly Kid Joe (originally known as Suburban Alcoholic White Trash) is nothing more than a Mötley Halen tribute, a bad-looking second-rate hair-metal band that prefers T-shirts and baggy shorts to frilly shirts and leather trousers. The six-track As Ugly as They Wanna Be, issued on a phony major-label street-cred imprint, has the hit and a bunch of other crud, the nadir being a pseudo-funky reprise of the single.

Their career momentum fizzling fast, the Joes released the increasingly aptly named America's Least Wanted, a formulaic rock/pop exercise that takes some cues from Guns n' Roses, repeats "Everything About You" and another EP track and fails to find wit or purpose in a cover of Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle." A one-joke joke that, like a comedian running short on material, keeps reusing the same punchline, Ugly Kid Joe doesn't have such a dark heart after all. The acoustic "Mr. Recordman" is, at worst, skeptical; the band gladly sides with downtrodden sorts like "Goddamn Devil" and "Panhandlin' Prince." Among the guests: Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins, Judas Priest's Rob Halford and actress Julia Sweeney.

It's frightening to think grown men would take public pride in such abject stupidity, but the Menace to Sobriety booklet contains a real-looking hotel bill detailing $12,896.81 in damage caused in a "food fight." Skipping the hey-remember-us? angle after a lengthy absence (during which time drummer Mark Davis left and was replaced by Shannon Larkin), guitarists Klaus Eichstadt and Dave Fortman, bassist Cordell Crockett and singer Whitfield Crane (sporting a new and nasty W. Axl Rose vocal affliction on some songs) reintroduce themselves as a growly, serious rock lot attempting to fill the gap left by the Gunners' silence. The surprising reverence of "God" and "Jesus Rode a Harley" ("Noah used to rock the boat sometimes/Mary used to get undone/Yeah, and Jesus rode a Harley Davidson") is the real shocker here; a liner note thanking "positive, good-vibin', spiritually blessed" supporters adds to the suspicion that something in addition to alcohol is affecting the band's vision. Just when the memory of Stryper was fading out, isn't that special?

[Ira Robbins]