Enuff Z’Nuff were always a bit of an oddity, their music definitely has a hard rock edge but the pop sensibilities were never hidden. They seemed to be lumped in with the ‘hair metal’ bands when they first appeared (and this is understandable looking at their image back then) but their music definitely bore the influence of bands like Cheap Trick and The Beatles. Despite a couple of singles making the Billboard Hot 100 (“Fly High Michelle” and “New Thing”), their career was hamstrung by record company politics so major success never came their way. Despite numerous line-up changes they have recently released their 14th album. We take a listen……
Please forgive me for this but I’m going to ignore the opener “Dog on a Bone” for the moment (for reasons that will become clear) and will start with track 2 – “Runaway”. After a showy opening, the song settles down with a pumping riff and a chorus, which reminds me of all the reasons that I liked the band in the first place. Appropriately enough (as you will see) for the nature of the album, the next song is called “Back in Time”. The lyrics are a letter from a spurned lover wanting to go back and change things so they could still be with their lover. The harmonies in the chorus are fantastic and there is a trademark guitar solo from lead guitarist Derek Frigo – technically it has the chops, but it still has emotion.
“She Makes it Harder” features yet another catchy chorus which interestingly drops the snare drum out, almost causing a “lull” in the song but the dynamic of the song is actually improved by the light and shade of the chorus having two halves. It is the second of three songs released on the likes of YouTube/Spotify as “promotional singles”. “Rockabye Dreamland” is the first single released from the album and opens with an acapella section before moving into an almost trippy song. It sashays along very pleasantly, although I don’t think it would have been my choice for a single. “The Devil of Shakespeare” features a couple of guest appearances from the late Jani Lane (of Warrant) on vocals and James “JY” Young from Styx on lead guitar. This is a slow groover, recorded later than the other songs on offer here and ably demonstrates that the band aren’t afraid to try different things. There are some lovely Hammond organ and mellotron, which really add to the sound. This is one of the standout songs for me – although I would be interested to hear a version featuring Donnie Vie (EZN vocalist), for comparison.
“Radio” opens with some great lines from bassist Chip Z’Nuff and stomps along until a double time section in the chorus drops down to a half-time section – again demonstrating the band’s ability to use different dynamics to great effect. Watch out for more great bass work under the radio DJ’s announcement. “Good Luv” is a sleazy sounding rocker which gives a bit of a nod to Van Halen. It was the third streamed release from the album. Whilst the guitar solo is very impressive and I like the song, I feel there are stronger tracks on offer here. “Round and Round” follows and the sound quality is noticeably improved (more on reasons why the differing fidelity levels later) from the former track and to these ears it has a memorable hook and is quite possibly my favourite of the album – a worthy addition to the EZN catalogue and is a strong enough song, that it could feature on any of their previous albums and it wouldn’t seem out of place. Next up is “Nothing” a slower paced rocker which seems to perk up when the drums start to go at double time during the guitar solo, otherwise it’s not a favourite of mine, there seems to be an unfinished demo quality to the song as it fades out while the second guitar solo is getting interesting.
The album closes with the one-two punch of “Backstreet Kids” and “One More Hit”. The former boasts another brilliant hook and harmony backing vocals. I particularly like the guitar work in the chorus. The constituent parts are fantastic (the key change is great) – it’s a song that I find myself humming rather a lot these days. “One More Hit” is a fantastic song – the intro has a guitar part reminiscent of AC/DC before settling down into a brilliant groove which precedes another great chorus. It’s another song that stands up alongside anything that they have released on previous albums.
Now the caveat: “Clown’s Lounge” would, by most band’s standard be viewed as a “stop-gap” release as it is made up mostly of tracks recorded over 20 years ago by a very different line-up, as demos. The problem (or in fact, it could be viewed as a strength) for Enuff Z’nuff is that they are prolific song writers and that the quality of their material is of a good enough standard that they are actually releasing their 4th album of this nature (following on from Peach Fuzz, 1985 and ?). It makes me wish this was given the full studio treatment as the audio quality, while by no means poor, is not up to their usual standards. There is a reason for that – as mentioned the majority of songs were recorded over 20 years ago and the technology has moved on. Bassist Chip Z’Nuff worked on the songs but was only able to add additional instrumentation rather than remove anything he felt was extraneous. It has to be said that despite the limitations of working with these demos he’s made a rather decent fist of making this sound like an album, rather than a collection of demos (which in most cases they are). Kudos to him for doing such a great job.
Moving back to the oddity of the album: the opening song. “Dog on a Bone” is a new song written and recorded by the current line-up of the band which features Chip Z’Nuff on lead vocals. It’s a great song and Z’Nuff is a more than passable vocalist. The band still has a future producing new material – and if it’s as strong as this, then signs are more than a little promising.
This is in essence an album that most EZN fans will embrace as the lion’s share of the songs were written and recorded by what would be viewed as their classic line-up (Donnie Vie – Lead Vocals/Guitar/Keys; Chip Z’nuff – Bass/vocals; Derek Frigo – Lead Guitar and Vikki Fox – Drums). If you were asking me to point someone in the direction of their best music, I would – like most fans, I suspect – point them in the direction of their first three albums but this is by no means that far behind those albums in terms of quality of songs. If someone wanted to dip their toe into Enuff Z’Nuff’s output, they could do far worse than to take a visit to “Clown’s Lounge”.
Review by Adrian Grainger