Monday, 6 July 2015

Choking on the Silence: "Exit the Dragon" by Urge Overkill


Mistake, be careful what you take
You've got so much at stake
It's stronger than you know
Beware the overdose

In the USA
You'll never find the time for slackin'
Never gonna make it today
Until you find you exit the dragon

Look inside, inside my soul
There's a catchy song, a catchy song
It's coming through the radio
There's a certain song, a certain song

Stuck inside my soul
It's a catchy song, it's number one
Too bad you had overdosed
- The Mistake


There's much to criticize and love about rock 'n roll music. It can be fun, catchy, and really make you want to move. It can also really tear you apart and turn you onto things that can ruin your life. It's a very polarizing genre for different people, especially those that have seen the dark side a lot of rock bands proselytize about as if it is what you should aspire for.

I grew up in a house that was all about rebellion and doing what you want all the time as many rock bands preached, and continue to preach, in an increasingly nihilistic fashion. As a result of all the things I've gone through, there is a lot of rock music I can't listen to anymore. I can't listen to outright lies like I used to.

But there was one band that stuck with me through this whole period after I had already hit rock bottom and began to grasp for the real light. This would be the band I'm writing this post about-- Urge Overkill.

Urge Overkill started as a parody band, more or less. An indie band that mocked the cliches of the rock n roll superstar with very goofy and ironic songs about nothing. As a kid, I thought it cute enough, but that stuff doesn't age so well.

Then they got a major label deal and released the album Saturation, which explored new territory for them. Instead of silly lyrics and jokes songs, they wrote real rock n roll music with lyrics far sharper than you would expect. One of my favorites is the song "Positive Bleeding", essentially a critique of the empty headed rock n roll lifestyle of endless hedonism obsession with individuality over community and independence for killing yourself over possibly granting the idea that some of the "rules" might actually be valid. This is not something you hear from rock bands, especially anymore.

Here is the official music video followed by the lyrics:


Hey! Look around today.
Everything don't need to be the same.
Feel. I'm feelin' lonely people.
People just like me who go it alone.
I guess I'm gonna go it alone.

Now I live my life remote controllin' my destiny
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
I can bleed when I want to bleed.
So come on, come on.
You can bleed when you want to bleed.
Want to bleed.

Bleeding.
Bleeding.

Hey! Look around today.
Everything don't need to be the same.
Feel. Feelin' lonely people.
People just like me who go it alone.
Cause, baby, I'm a rolling stone.

I live my life with no control in my destiny.
Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah.
I can bleed when I want to bleed.
So come on. Come on.
You can bleed when you want to bleed.
Yeah yeah, come on.
Everybody bleed when they want to bleed.
Come on and bleed!

Yeah yeah. Yeah yeah.
I can bleed when I want to bleed.
Come on. Come on.
You can bleed when you want to bleed.
Yeah yeah. Come on.
Everybody bleed when they want to bleed.
Cause I can bleed when I want to bleed.
You can bleed when you want to bleed.


The album itself is not only great as a rock n roll album, but for showing those cliches as the empty-headed dead ends that they really are. This is a genre that frequently brags about suicide like it's heroic, so a song like "Positive Bleeding" needed to be written. But the album is full of songs just as clever with just as good titles. Saturation is still considered their best album, but it's not the album I'm writing about here.

See, what happened was that Saturation was a big hit and the band started heavily indulging in the very things they decried and rejected with the album. Especially their drummer who got in hard into heroin. What ended up happening is a bunch of very important realizations. The first was that this stuff wasn't very funny, your life is a gift that can't be wasted for such empty gratification. The band name Urge Overkill was once a joke about overdosing on indulgence, but it took a whole new tone when the band had actually done it.

What happened was an encounter with the important things in life. Mortality, purity, honesty, and purpose, were what the band grabbed hard onto. They recorded the album, Exit the Dragon (meaning removing a heroin needle from your arm) which ended up being outright rejected by the rock crowd and radio for being a rejection of everything they trumpeted.

Despite being an incredibly good rock n roll album, Exit the Dragon confronts hard truths about drugs, hedonism, mindless sex, alienation, spiritual decay, and a search for something more.

For instance, this was the first single, "The Break":


I need a break and I need one clean
Things are never what they seem
What seems close is so far away
You keep runnin' out of words to say

But I keep on singing anyway
'Cause I'm never goin' back there
No I'm never goin' back there
Folks don't really talk much about it anymore

'Cause it's a place with no way in it, it's a road to no way out
I'm asleep when I'm awake, can't get a break
And I'm falling out, I'm falling down again
And I'm calling out, I'm calling out to you
Yes, I'm falling out, I'm falling down again

'Cause it's a place with no way in it, it's a road to no way out
Everything ends in a heart ache, can't get a break
And I'm falling out, I'm falling down again
And I'm calling out, I'm calling out for you
Yes, I'm falling out, I'm falling down again
And I'm calling out, I'm calling out for you

No one calls much anymore
That's okay 'cause I don't use the phone
It feels better on your own
But don't get wasted every day alone

And I'm never goin' back there
I don't care, I don't want to talk much anymore

'Cause it's a place with no way in it, it's a road to no way out
Everything ends in a heart ache, can't get a break
And I'm falling out, I'm falling down again
And I'm calling out, I'm calling out for you
Yes, I'm falling out, I'm falling down again
And I'm calling out, I'm calling out for you


There's a very clear and obvious message there, but it didn't seem like it was a message people wanted to hear from a rock band.

"Need Some Air" tackles alienation and the feeling of losing yourself to despair, "Honesty Files" pleads out for any sort of realism, "This Is No Place" is about waking up in wrong place (in more ways than one), "Monopoly" is about, of course, treating life as a game, and "View of the Rain" is about confronting the silence of the world and asking it for truth and something more. Then there are songs like "Last Night/Tomorrow" about the endless cycle of hedonism.

Last, but in no way least, "And You'll Say" is perhaps the definitive statement of the album taking on the direct shallowness of casual relationships for not being near deep enough for the average person:

And you will say
If it makes you happy, I'll just walk away
If it makes you lonely, I'll stay
We're living this, why should we run away?
But we won't get that far

And you will say, you never loved me anyway
And you could leave but that's not what I want
And you can have what's yours
And I'll just take what's mine, 'cause it's easier to lie

What'll keep us alive?
What'll keep us high?
What'll keep us happy?

And you will say, you never loved me anyway
And you could leave but that's not what I want
And you can have what's yours
And I'll just take what's mine, 'cause it's easier to lie

And you will say
Would it make you happy, if we could just run away?
I can always picture your smile
But if you leave your conscience undone
A smile can get you far

And you will say, you never loved me anyway
And you could leave, but that's not what I want
And you can have what's yours
And I'll just take what's mine, 'cause it's easier

And you will say, you never loved me anyway
And you could leave, but that's not what I want
And you can have what's yours
And I'll just take what's mine, 'cause it's easier
'Cause it's easier to lie


Every song has lyrics that go a bit deeper than the surface. But the impressive part is the music never strays from the rock n roll aesthetic of big guitars, smooth bass, and catchy drum beat, while it flows through 70s rock stylings, 80s indie, 90s alternative, acoustic rock, bouncing pop, and frightening, yet beautiful, feedback loops that haunt randomly throughout the album before showing up in the last song to end it off. The album ends as suddenly as it starts-- in mid-beat. Because that is our lives, we come in and go out without any warning, but it is what we do in between that matters most.

As you can tell, I put a lot of thought into this album over the years. Now, I don't know how much of this the bad actually intended, but I do know drug addiction is what broke them up after this album came out and lead them getting away from the spotlight. (They since reformed with a new drummer, and have become a more serious band, which is a very nice thing to see. I wish them much artistic success.)

But the entire album is full of similar attempts at understanding rock bottom and clawing out of it. For instance, let's contrast the very first lyrics of the album (from the song, "Jaywalkin'", about cutting through life the wrong way) and the final eight-minute epic (from the song "Digital Black Epilogue", about the death of singer, Selena, and placing it in the context of mortality and the fact that eventually our time will be up) which could not be further from each other:


I'm the evil that's in this world
I'm the evil in you
I'm the evil that's in this world
There's too much evil, it's true

I can walk with kings
I can walk with queens
I can walk for dreams
I can walk with angels
I would talk but that's not true

Contrasted with:

I can hear, I can hear a voice singing
And it's singing something holy
When I'm feeling a warning
Take a breath and sing it slowly

Yes, can you hear, can you feel it?
Gonna take a breath and sing it slowly
Sing it out, sing it out, sing it out
Gonna take a breath and sing it out slowly


It's an album I liked a lot when I was a pretty awful hedonist and didn't know it, but the album hits a lot harder when you've been through the ringer and you've hit the bottom and have found the light to guide you back out and to fix your broken pieces.

Exit the Dragon is an album that has stuck with me, and will probably always be one of my favorites for attempting to find the way out of a deep pit without reveling in it like a fool, despairing about it like a defeatist, or ignoring it and trudging further into the darkness like many rock bands continue to do today.

If you consider yourself a fan of rock or pop music, and are looking for an album with a lot more to it than you might think, I recommend Exit the Dragon highly. It's fairly easy to find for cheap even if the record company had no faith in it (the album isn't even on iTunes, even though their lesser indie efforts are) and radio ignored it, the album still has a lot to offer.

Mindless hedonism will never leave us, but that doesn't mean we can't fight it tooth and nail just as we were meant to.


Take a walk upside yourself
Get to know the person behind the face
Is it someone you can really love?
Is it somebody who looks down from above?
With a view of the rain.

- View of the Rain

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