Brainwashed Generation (Frontiers)
Apparently, a whole lot of people wrote Chi-Town power-poppers Enuff Z’nuff off way too early. But holy shit, they looked down and out. Let’s put to one side the fact that the band was lumped in with the ’80s hair metal scene despite the fact that their sound was always, notoriously, far closer to the harmony-driven pop-rock of the Beatles. Sure, they liked the tight pants and hairspray, but still…
Yet when hair metal gave way to grunge in the early ’90s, commercially at least, many would have assumed Enuff Z’nuff would suffer, and they probably did. Then, add the fact that the voice of the band, Donnie Vie, left in 2002, returned in 2008 then left again in 2013, and you’d think you were looking at a band in a perpetual state of disrepair. So what right do they have releasing an album as frankly great as Brainwashed Generation?
Occasional live shows without Vie caught by this writer over the past 15 years or so haven’t been awful, but they haven’t been great either. And even with Vie, the more recent albums haven’t tickled fans in the good parts like the band used to do. So this record is a definite, against-the-odds return to form.
Maybe returning guitarist Alex Kane has played a part. Kane was a member of the band in 1987/88, then went away and had a fantastic band called Life, Sex & Death (LSD), and another Brit-based ensemble called AntiProduct. In addition, he’s played with all of the surviving Ramones, Shark Island and a particularly wonderful side project called Clam Abuse. Over that time, he proved that he’s a stellar performer and songwriter, so it makes sense that his return to the Enuff Z’nuff ranks has coincided with their best new material in years.
“This batch of songs are simply gifts from above via a plethora of influences,” says singer and bassist Chip Z’nuff in a press release. “There’s certainly plenty of fodder at this unprecedented time in our world… We recorded the album in few interesting locations. Stonecutter Studio in downtown Chicago, Chris Steinmetz’s studio (White Lion, Styx), which was a ghost town, and my studio on the Southside that was filled with extracurricular activities during the whole process.”
The album opens with a gorgeous, piano-led intro called “The Gospel” before kicking into the single, “Fatal Distraction.” Typically EZ, the dreamy harmonies and hard riffs give way to the most infectious of choruses.
It also doesn’t hurt that Vie returns for one track only — “Strangers in My Head.” It’s a powerful, anthemic tune too, but it’s a testament to Chip Z’nuff that his voice doesn’t suffer alongside that of his old friend.
“Fabulous rock musicians came by during these sessions to lend their magnificent skills such as members of Cheap Trick (Daxx Nielsen), Mike Portnoy (Sons of Apollo, Winery Dogs), and Steve Ramone,” says Z’nuff.
The album never lets up. “Help” begins with a cinematic, almost Quadrophenia-like intro, before launching full-on into poetic, melodic rock goodness. Meanwhile, when Z’nuff sing’s “Life is tough” on “It’s All in Vain” you totally believe him — his heart is bleeding all over that one.
Hopefully he feels better in the knowledge that his band has just produced a barnstormer of a rock & roll record. They can’t tour it any time soon, but if there’s any justice this is an album that will find its way into many homes anyway.
Enuff Z’nuff’s Brainwashed Generation is out from July 1o via Frontiers.