One for Friday: Urge Overkill, “Sister Havana”

Though I like to think my musical tastes have diversified somewhat in recent years, two decades ago there was no surer pathway into my preferences than big, proud electric guitars. The Chicago band Urge Overkill was already on my radar for that very reason by the time they released their major label debut, Saturation, in 1993. Their prior effort, The Supersonic Storybook on Touch and Go, was championed by CMJ, the college radio trade publication, and I returned to it fairly regularly across my last few semesters as a student at the station. But Saturation, officially released just a couple weeks after my graduation, was on a whole different level, the band obviously benefiting from the added studio time and polish that a big label contract could buy. Their sound wasn’t obscured by the added attention. In fact, Urge Overkill finally sounded the way I suspected they always did in the idealized arena that existed in their minds whenever they hit a sharp riff.

The album also had an amazing pile driver of a lead single. “Sister Havana” is lush, strident, compelling and catchier than any track that repeatedly references Fidel Castro by name has any right to be. It’s a song built for summer, almost strong enough to make the car windows roll down all on its own. The rest of Saturation is excellent, but “Sister Havana” is a like a master class lesson on writing an offbeat hit single. At least, it should be. While the song had a certain amount of traction, it also kind of got lost in a time when the swirling tides of the grunge movement were still confusing things, meaning songs rife with manufactured edge were predominant. Urge Overkill (or perhaps their label) seemed to take notice of this, and by their next album, 1995’s Exit the Dragon, they were trying a little too hard to traffic in gloom. From there, downhill was the only plausible route. They broke up by the late nineties, and then, of course, reunited later.

Whatever misgivings I might have about the stuff that came later, Saturation still holds up nicely. And “Sister Havana” can still force down the car windows and make the speedometer mysterious tick upwards a few miles per hour.

Listen or download –> Urge Overkill, “Sister Havana”
The song was removed because the representation of Urge Overkill nicely asked me to do so. As I noted in the original disclaimer below, I am glad to do so. They also asked that I include a link to buy the album online, so here it is: Buy Saturation. I can heartily endorse acquiring the album. It’s utterly fantastic.

(Disclaimer: It looks to me like Saturation is currently out of print, at least as a physical object. Given the math that can be done using a simple calendar, it’s entirely possible that it’s been removed from circulation in advance of some deeee-luxe reissue to commemorate its twentieth anniversary that I’m simply not hip to just yet. Regardless, I’m posting this not because I’m a mustache-twirling villain intent on stealing nickels from hard-working musicians, but because I genuinely believe there’s no current way to go to your favorite local, independently-owned record store and purchase it in a way that supports both the proprietor of said store and the band. It’s seems a little suspicious to me that this release, undoubtedly the biggest from the band, isn’t available, so maybe my research is faulty. Whatever the circumstances, if I’m contacted by someone with due authority to request its removal from the internet and that individual or entity makes just such a request, I will promptly and gladly comply.)