Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser of Urge Overkill nearly pulled off a neat trick in the early ’90s, presenting themselves as chic, dick-swinging rock stars before they became actual rock stars. They even had a top-flight fake ID for entry in the arena-rock millionaire’s club: 1993’s Saturation, a witty, whip-smart record that gave cool-guy smarm a good name. Alas, Urge Overkill never really broke through, and two years later, the group was in ruins, saddled with all the usual post-success bullshit—infighting, drug abuse, general bad vibes—without any of the success. Now Urge Overkill is back, chastened and a bit shaky, with its first record in 16 years, Rock&Roll Submarine. As the title suggests, Urge Overkill has had to start over somewhere below the ground floor in order to recover some of the indie-rock cred it lost when it became that one-hit-wonder band from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Pretending the slick makeover of Saturation never happened, Urge Overkill keeps the Nuge-style riffage on Rock&Roll Submarine rooted in the realities of basement-show grime, tamping down the old stadium-ruling ambitions with wanton sloppiness and purposefully duller hooks. Songs like the stormy “Effigy” and jive-talking ballad “Thought Balloon” are thick with affected naturalism, as if Kato and Roeser rehearsed long and hard to sound like they rolled out of bed yesterday and decided to reunite. The end result is just as prefabricated as Saturation, though Rock&Roll Submarine will likely speak to fans of the band’s looser, rawer Touch & Go period. More importantly, Kato and Roeser seem to feel like themselves again. When Kato sings “I believe in me” on “Poison Flower,” he might even be sincere for a change.