United World Rebellion: Chapter One is Skid Row’s third release to feature vocalist Johnny Solinger, who’s been their singer for a decade now, which is probably close to how long original vocalist Sebastian Bach was in the band. Their first release with Solinger was called Thickskin and it found the band trying on an alternative sound on many of the tracks. I was skeptical about Skid Row without Sebastian, but I saw them open for Poison shortly after Thickskin was released and I was really impressed with their performance overall, including the new songs they did, so I picked up the album and I ended up loving it. I didn’t think there was a bad song in the bunch. I even liked “I Remember You Too,” which found them turning the classic Skid Row ballad into more of a punk rock or even emo song. But it worked. It shouldn’t have, but it did. Of course, it was slightly controversial because some fans who were still supporting Sebastian thought that they were trying to say that they could do a new and improved version of the classic tune without Sebastian, that their new version with Solinger was better than the original. But I don’t think they meant it that way at all. They might have done it as a selling point to get fans of the original version to pick up the new album — I really don’t know — but I don’t think it was meant to be an insult to Sebastian. If they were trying to rival him, the album overall would have been much heavier, not a largely alternative disc when alternative was something they’d never even remotely come close to doing with Sebastian.
You can compare Sebastian Bach and Johnny Solinger all damn day, but it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges. They’re two totally different singers with different styles. Yes, Solinger can do a pretty good impersonation of Bach when they perform the old songs live, but he doesn’t try to clone him, still letting his voice shine through even as he belts out Bach’s big notes. Personally, I loved Skid Row with Sebastian as the singer and those albums will always be close to my heart because they came out when I was a teenager. But I really dig the version of the band with Solinger, too. I’ll admit that I wasn’t very fond of their second album with him, Revolutions Per Minute, which found them trying on other styles — even country — and just felt too confused to me. Plus, it didn’t shine the way Thickskin did in terms of the production. It felt like an album that was just whipped together in a month for the sake of having a new album out, not so much of an artistic statement.
Whether you prefer Skid Row with Sebastian or Solinger, you have to admit that, musically, the current version of Skid Row with Solinger sounds more like classic Skid Row than Sebastian’s solo albums. Sebastian’s solo albums have found him going totally into metal mode, whereas Skid Row have always been more of a hard rock band than a metal band. Well, they did have plenty of heavy songs, but at heart they were still a dirty rock ‘n’ roll band. With his solo material, Bach is clearly trying to be a metal god and he just keeps doing heavier and heavier songs all of the time. Honestly, I tried to get into his solo albums but they just didn’t do it for me. That style of metal just feels too over the top to me. It’s like it’s just heavy for the sake of being heavy, which isn’t always a good thing. But this isn’t about Bach, so I digress.
Skid Row’s United World Rebellion: Chapter One is a true return to form for the band, which finds them doing songs mostly in the vein of Skid Row’s magnum opus, Slave To The Grind. In fact, some of these tracks actually sound like they could have been on that album. They’ve got those raw guitars and chugging bass guitar and the music just sounds like these songs came straight out of those sessions. Which isn’t surprising because, while they might have a different singer, this is still the same band who made Slave To The Grind (aside from the drummer). The same two guitarists and bassist who founded the band and have always had a signature sound that no other band could imitate, which is one of the reasons Skid Row were so well regarded, not only by fans but by critics at the time. Suffice to say that this E.P. rocks. “Kings of Demolition” just overflows with rocking energy and, yes, rebellion. That spirit of rebellion can be heard throughout the E.P. Maybe that’s a little weird coming from guys who are in their 40s now, but you can still rock ‘n’ roll at any age and you get the impression that these guys still truly do live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle when you listen to these heavy, gritty, down and dirty songs.
“Kick the tires, ride the fires, let’s go,” Solinger sings during the pumped up chorus of “Let’s Go.” Is it an invite to party or to stick your middle finger up, directed at the man? Who knows. It would be a good song to play if you’re ever trying to incite a riot though.
Not every song on the E.P. is a blazing rock number. “This Is Killing Me” is an emotive mid-tempo ballad that would seem to be about a bad break up, really missing someone. While I like this version of the song, the guitars get a little too loud and crunchy if I’m being totally honest. I wish they would have done this one with just — or mostly — acoustic guitars. To that end, I’d love to hear an acoustic version of this song. As it is, it’s the sort of angsty ballad you would have expected to hear on a tape of Guns ‘N’ Roses out-takes during the band’s early days. I swear, it could be straight off of those tapes. Anyway, every song on this E.P. is great and you should definitely buy it if you’re a longtime Skid Row fan, even if you haven’t liked their previous releases with Solinger. This really finds them back in that vintage Skid Row vein. Cheers to them.