If ever there was a need for good, honest rock and roll, it’s right now. With all the bubblegum pop groups and pseudo-heavy bands that sound like their lead singers are more into grunting and screaming than actually trying to sound entertaining, a person who’s not into either of those forms of muzak can often fall by the wayside. So it is with much enthusiasm that I can announce Nash Kato’s return to the airwaves.
In case you have no idea who Nash Kato is or was, this is the man who used to front Urge Overkill, until drummer Blackie Onassis developed a strong liking for heroin, and bassist Eddie King Roeser began to develop a strong dislike for Kato. So here we now have Nash’s debut album, Debutante, chock full of classy rockers, some of them co-written with Onassis and Roeser replacement Nils St. Cyr. You see, these are some of these songs would have been on the next UO album if there had been one. St. Cyr got to stick around, as he plays throughout the album.
Let me just say this. There hasn’t been a sexier sounding record like Debutante in ages. Forget Prince and his last few hodgepodges. Forget all those R&B groups with silky voices that are supposed to sound sexy. Forget about all your rock and roll idols whom you think are sexy, and give a listen to this album. With the addition of a full set of “debutantes” adding creamy background vocals (one of whom is Louise Post), this release comes right off the hinges.
Kato hasn’t sounded this assured since UO’s Saturation. On Debutante, he sounds as confident as can be. The opening rocker “Zooey Suicide” demands the listener’s attention at once. It’s tough to see how this song would have ever been pulled off as well by UO. Indeed, Kato stated in an interview that he was finally able to branch out and record the types of sounds he’s been wanting to for a long time.
“Queen Of The Gangsters” is dark and foreboding, in a halfway optimistic Kato way. It’s reminiscent of songs that appeared on the final UO album, Exit the Dragon. And as far as tributes to Victoria’s Secret models go, “Octoroon”‘s cadences towards Laetitia Casta are about as good as it gets. Kato’s pulled out all the stops on this one, and the sounds are as classy as his clothes. Why Ms. Casta? You tell me. Without a lyric sheet, I was perplexed the first few times I listened to the song, but then it finally all became coherent.
“Cradle Robbers” would suit a lot of people online. Dig it as Nash shoots down the elderly who take sexual advantage of the youthful. “It seems so ordinary / Tooth Bunny and the Easter Fairy”. Sporting one of the most memorable melodies on the entire album, “Cradle Robbers” rocks and pops like nothing else. If only they’d play this stuff on the radio. Same goes for “Blow”, an incredibly beautiful sad song that feels like the brisk breezes that begin to arrive when Autumn settles in. Familiar and funky. Slow and subtle.
The big prize, though, is the title track. “Debutante” is the best example I can think of for why all this crap music on the radio’s gotta go. With a seemingly endless supply of melodies and super hot guitar licks, “Debutante” just doesn’t let up. “Tonight I’m holding some fifty large / Tonight I’m here at the scene of the crime / Remind the bouncer just who is in charge / But tell his dopeman we don’t need his lines”. Tough and gritty. And with no sympathy towards the title character, Nash comes off as tough as Lou Reed back in the ‘70s.
Kato even turns in a fantastic cover tune. Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” is the song in question. You’ve never quite heard this classic till you hear it with a little accordion thrown in. No, not polka accordion. Just smooth and perfect squeezebox action. And those guitar solos at the end are pure perfectionism. It’s not often you hear a Steely Dan cover, if ever, but here Kato pulls it off with a lot of panache.
Both “Rani (Don’t Waste It)” and “Los Angelena” hark back to the UO days once again. A bit more pensisve and straight forward, these two tunes ground the album solidly before it takes off into ‘70s nostalgia. Not that we really need another song about a city in California, but “Los Angelena” remains original in its imagery. On the other hand “Rani” is a solid rocker, sporting a great intro and lots more of those patented Kato riffs that just can’t be denied.
“Black Satin Jacket” on the other hand may as well be the great song that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker never wrote. Something must have awakened in Kato when he was recording “Dirty Work”, or else the Steely vibe was in the air, because “Black Satin Jacket” sounds just like a long lost outtake from something like The Royal Scam or Countdown to Ecstasy. It’s quirky and jazzy, and full of all those strange lyrics that make sense just like Donald Fagen writes. Or used to write. You be the judge.
After that, the weak link arrives. “Pillow Talk” just tends to wander all over the map without really settling anywhere interesting. This also makes the song seem as if it goes on forever. It probably would have been better off being cut from the album. However, “Born in the Eighties” is pure fun, as Kato both thumbs his nose and embraces all the trends and gadgets that the new generation either grew up on, or are now just living through their own discovery. Man, it’s scary to think there’s a whole group of people out there who were only toddlers when Thriller was first released.
Debutante closes with the brooding “Blue Wallpaper”. Again, it sounds like a track that would have fit on the last UO album. It’s not bad. It’s just not the best choice for a closing number, although it is better than “Pillow Talk”. So two songs out of a total of 13 is hardly something to pass over. There’s plenty of other, more popular albums out now that don’t even contain two good songs, let alone eleven.
Everything about Debutante is pure rock and roll class. From the cool cover art to the Debutante vocals, to Nash’s guitar playing. This is where it’s at. And you can thank Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam in helping to get this released, as Sony 550 didn’t want to handle it, and neither did another label. Kinda like how Matthew Sweet’s amazing Girlfriend was treated before Zoo Entertainment picked it up. Ah well, at least someone was listening. It’s great to have Kato back in the fold. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long again for the next release.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/katonash-debutante/