The Urge titled their last album Master of Styles, which seems nearly (accent on nearly) appropriate in describing this St. Louis sextet. After all, any group that can throw funk, ska, pop and metal into the old mixmaster (accent on old) without any discernible recipe for making it all work to their commercial benefit is nothing if not adaptable. Then again, Jack of Styles doesn't exactly exude confidence, does it?
Now, three years later, frontman Steve Ewing identified in their current publicity photos as "King Stevie E." and the rest of this six-sizes-fit-all (without, curiously, fitting anyone) team is back. (Let's see: Goatee? Check. Bleached hair? Check. Slicked back hair? Check. Dreadlocks? Check. Earring? Check. Lapdog? Check. ... Lapdog? Hey, nice touch!) And, as with their previous work, Too Much Stereo often sounds like one group conducting its own battle-of-the-bands contest.
Anchored by Karl Grable's loping ska/funk bass and propelled into their many hummable choruses by Jerry Jost's prog-rock-leaning guitar and the whip-smart drums of John Pessoni (he's the one with the lapdog), the Urge are undeniably eclectic. From the skittish, horn-aided ska of "I Go Home" to the prog-rock pretenses of "What Do They Know" and the pop-topping title track, they come at their eclecticism like, well, like a Midwestern show band which would explain not only their versatility but also the almost unbearable lightness of their music.
As for their lyrics, that's a whole other ragout. "I like to keep the words simple, about something complex," contends Ewing on "What Is This" (RealAudio excerpt) a tune that includes references to Michael Douglas, Dennis Rodman, Teddy Pendergrass, Calgon (the bath oil beads, I presume) and Michael Jordan pitching underwear (as opposed to hot dogs, batteries, phone service, shoes and cologne). And to what end, you ask? Well, here's the chorus: "The globe is shifting/ When the fires burn/ Turn the knob 'cause/ That's the way the world turns." Got it? Yeah, me, too.
Then again, on the clearly courtesy-of-Fred's-two-feet-inspired "Push on Like Flintstone," Ewing sings "Push on like Flintstone/ Your ass is too fake for me. ... Push on like Flinstone/ Your eyes are too blind to see." And on "Say a Prayer" (RealAudio excerpt), he cries out, "I pray to God I see the world like everyone else. ... I know I can/ I know I can/ Get off this couch!" So, in the final analysis, I guess it really is quite simple, Steve. JUST TURN THE DAMN TV OFF and go outside every once in a while. You might just become a master of reality and not just artifice.