AUGUST 16, 2020

ROCKWiRED REWiND: URGE OVERKiLL - SATURATiON (1993)'ve said it before in other articles and I'll say it again, the nineties was a confusing time. Well, the early nineties anyway. Grunge rock was king with bands like NIRVANA, PEARL JAM and ALICE IN CHAINS securing platinum sales with music that was speaking to the angst of mostly white suburban kids (who knew?) rendering the eyeliner, hairspray and glamour typified by much of eighties hard rock and heavy metal obsolete. Despite the success of these bands and the cultural shift that came with their success, it was strange to see this indifference to the fame and notoriety it generated. It's even harder to imagine now where not even a pandemic has done much to curb this strange appetite for celebrity worship. It's fine with me as long I don't have to look at Doc Marten boots or flannel shirts en masse again. Even as an 18 year old in 1993, I found myself longing for the days when rock n roll could pretty itself up and deliver on the promise of drugs and sex. In 1993 rock n roll was all about suffering.

In the year before the murder of NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON and RON GOLDMAN, the suicide of KURT COBAIN and the release of QUENTIN TARANTINO's PULP FICTION, rock n roll had become a puritanical affair. Thankfully URGE OVERKILL came along and livened up the party with their major label (GEFFEN RECORDS) debut SATURATION – a brisk, blistering set of unrelenting yet clever stadium rock designed to raise the profile of the Chi-town post-punkers to the heights of rock n roll superstardom. Hell, it was even produced by THE BUTCHER BROS - the production team behind the then prepubescent hip hop duo KRISS KROSS.

In 1993, frontman NASH KATO, guitarist KING ROESER and drummer BLACKIE ONASSIS of URGE OVERKILL found themselves at odds with the drabness that came to define the grunge era. Their arsenal included slick power chords, a kitschy 1970's pastiche, matching suits, gold medallions and a sense of irony that your average grunge monkey was too unsophisticated to grasp. On the strength of the album's first single SISTER HAVANA, I bought the album on cassette and remember some people scoffing when they saw it in my collection of tapes or heard me blasting it in the car. It was revulsion rooted in the belief that rock n roll wasn't supposed to be fun and stylish. Needless to say, I felt the “sellout” charge that was thrown around in those days was silly and you had to leave it up to a bunch of clique-ish little X-ers to not see the irony of the situation.

Despite the image of the band as martini sipping jet-setters, make no mistake that these guys were post punk to the core and had honed their sound within the same Chicago music scene that bred the likes of HUSKER DU, VERUCA SALT, LIZ PHAIR and SMASHING PUMPKINS.

The fun started when NASH KATO and guitarist KING ROESER met each other and formed the band while attending Northwestern University in 1985. URGE OVERKILL released their STEVE ALBINI-produced debut EP STRANGE, I... on the RUTHLESS label in 1986 but it was on the label TOUCH AND GO where the band would sharpen their STONES-y punk sound on such albums as JESUS URGE SUPERSTAR (1989), the BUTCH VIG produced AMERICRUISER (1990), SUPERSONIC STORYBOOK (1991) and the 1992 EP STULL which featured a cover of the NEIL DIAMOND classic GIRL, YOU'LL BE A WOMAN SOON. When labels realized that there was something to this "alternative rock thing", GEFFEN RECORDS came knocking and URGE OVERKILL stepped things up both sonically and visually with the release of SATURATION on June 8, 1993. Looking back, I couldn't imagine a better summer album. As the band's primary songwriters, KATO and ROESER emerge as toxic twins in the same way that JAGGER and RICHARDS were, delivering a catalog of songs that speak of lust, adventure, bitterness and regret – all of the things that make good rock n roll compelling. Sealing the deal is NASH KATO's icy croon which can leap to a primal howl in a matter of seconds and drummer BLACK ONASSIS laying down the heavy metal thunder that makes the power pop of KATO and ROESER truly crackle.

SATURATION kicks off with a song that has gone on to be an unqualified 90s rock classic. Opening deceptively with a feedback sound that bounces from right to left and back again in stereo, SISTER HAVANA immediately asserts itself with that sturdy and unmistakable four chord riff in D minor that the frantic rock anthem is built on. When ONASSIS' drums kick in, all hell breaks loose and the beginnings of a rock n roll classic take shape thanks to KATO's urgent vocals, dueling guitars and stomping drums. Following the delectable guitar solo, something you didn't hear a lot of in 90's rock, the song reaches a glorious peak with the bridge where the band comes together and harmonizes, “There's no time to lose!” - a fiery chant punctuated by stomping drums and power chords that propels the track to a glorious fade out. Accompanied by an equally exciting music video there should've been no doubt about the band's superstar ambitions in an age when men in rock were "losers" and "creeps".

SATURATION's second single was another slice of hard rock heaven and when you listen closely you can hear what sound like eastern strings past the sturdy guitar riffs. URGE OVERKILL have been dismissed as a band taking their queue from seventies hard rock, but truthfully they are a band of their time and POSITIVE BLEEDING is another 90's rock anthem that deserved that wider audience. In watching the music video for the song back in 1993, I was sure that POSITIVE BLEEDING wasn't going to be the last we would hear of the band.

This strutting glam rocker makes a celebration out of sexual longing complete with a horn section and bells at the glorious number's conclusion. I remember the band opening their show with this one when I saw them live years ago and being blown away by the song in a way that I wasn't from simply hearing it off of the album. Either live or on record, URGE OVERKILL turn in another classic performance. 

In an album filled with bombastic rock n roll, DROPOUT stands out by a mile in a good way. BLACKIE ONASSIS is on vocals this time over a guitar being strummed and some programmed hip hop beats. The sparse, haunting track paints the picture of an aimless loser trapped in a burnt out town and a burned out scene. This could've easily been a single with an interesting video but pushing the track onto the mainstream rock crowd probably would've proven difficult. DROP OUT is an island unto itself on SATURATION and provides a nice break from much of the the rah rah rah of the album.

HEAVEN 90210
The rock n roll journey that was SATURATION comes a reflective conclusion with the moody rock ballad HEAVEN 90210. I'm not sure if it was ever used in the TV series BEVERLY HILLS 90210 but it could've worked. The album's final track brings to mind the end of a TARANTINO film a'la ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD where the chaos is over and two buddies can just chill and play cards by the swimming pool as the lyrics suggest. I couldn't think of a better way to end the day.

*** music of SATURATION was ever present on MTV in the summer of 1993. You could even hear the riff of SISTER HAVANA played in the background music of movie trailers such as CLEAN SLATE with DANA CARVEY and FATAL INSTINCT with SEAN YOUNG, but the band didn't quite emerge into the public consciousness in the way I would've liked. I remember seeing them live on the American University campus in Washington D.C. It was a fantastic show but some frat boys in the audience (at least I think they were frat boys) started moshing and got a hold of some poindexter in the audience and crowd surfed him up to the stage knocking NASH KATO over. KATO stormed off the stage and the rest of the band followed. When the lights went up, everyone got the cue that the show was done, but the crowd started chanting “U-O!! U-O!!! U-O!!!” After a fifteen minutes the band got back on stage and completed the show. Outside of MTV giving the band a good deal of exposure URGE OVERKILL enjoyed some favorable press for SATURATION.

In ROLLING STONE's three-and-a-half star review of SATURATION, writer GREG KOT had this to offer:

"Since forming in 1986, Urge have never lacked for ideas. But on Saturation they cut away the fat, with the help of producers Joe and Phil Nicolo, the Butcher Brothers of Philadelphia's Ruffhouse hip-hop label. "Dropout" in particular bears the Butchers' street touch, with Onassis singing over a shuffling drum loop. But it's the guys in Urge who are the real winners here. In the past, style has set them apart. On Saturation, it's the songs."

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY was kind if a little dismissive.

"This band paid attention in How to Be a Rock Star 101 for Saturation. Melody, guitar riffs, and feedback are good. Don’t deviate too much from known sound or you will freak the record-buying public; add your own thing, but keep it subtle, as with clever song titles - "Bottle of Fur" and "Heaven 90210," for example. Thank buzz rockers such as Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr in liner notes. Dress retro. (Beatle boots are always hip.) And remain cool at all times."

Hey! At least they gave it a B+.

Not only did critics take notice, so did CHRISSIE HYNDE of THE PRETENDERS who started dating NASH KATO and had kept ROLLING STONE updated on the upcoming 1994 PRETENDERS album and how URGE OVERKILL had inspired it. Of course that ended being a lie and THE PRETENDERS' album LAST OF THE INDEPENDENCE was a fucking bore. One year after the release of SATURATION, no other cuts from the album were released as singles, but film director QUENTIN TARANTINO had come across the band's recording of the NEIL DIAMOND hit GIRL, YOU'LL BE A WOMAN SOON and used it for his 1994 film PULP FICTION. With the film and its soundtrack being a hit, URGE OVERKILL finally got a hit song, but my happiness for the band was tempered by my feeling that SATURATION should've been a big moment for the band and for a rock n roll climate that could've used a little more style and panache.


Rock n roll glory was all I wanted for these guys, but sadly it never happened. There was another album in 1995 called EXIT THE DRAGON but having been immersed in my studies in art school at the time, I never gave the release much thought. Soon thereafter URGE OVERKILL dissolved as a band. In 2000, NASH KATO would re-emerge with the solo album DEBUTANTE and being a fellow who missed URGE OVERKILL something awful by then, I found the album fun and punchy with just the right amount of gallows humor that made SATURATION such a blast. It would be eleven years after that when KING ROESER and KATO would come together as URGE OVERKILL again for the 2011 EP ROCK N ROLL SUBMARINE. According to what I've been able to read online, there is another URGE OVERKILL release in the works, but in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, SATURATION feels like home again and has provided me memories that I can bang my head to. Albums like that aren't coming around again so I'm glad I was able to be there when it happened.

FOR MORE iNFORMATiON GO TO: Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.