There was always more to Chicago legends Enuff Z’Nuff than day-glo clothes, peace signs and drug problems. To a select few back in the day, singer Donnie Vie and bassist Chip Z’nuff were our generation’s Lennon & McCartney. And while they peaked commercially with their self-titled debut album, 1991’s follow-up ‘Strength’ was their masterpiece. Then along came Grunge and knocked them straight outta the ball park like many others. The following album ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ sank without a trace, as did their career.
But unlike many of their contemporaries, the band battled through the subsequent line-up changes, legal issues and drug & alcohol addiction. Original guitarist Derek Frigo died of an overdose, long time drummer Ricky Parent succumbed to cancer. They changed labels more times than they changed drummers and guitar players, yet through all the tragedies, the one constant was that Chip & Donnie released quality music year after year. Even Donnie’s departure couldn’t stop the band. Now 15 albums into their career Enuff Z’nuff are back with a new album entitled ‘Brainwashed Generation’, the second to feature Chip as lead singer.
To be honest, I had little interest in hearing EZN’s last album ‘Golden Boy’. For me, EZN without Donnie is like Queen without Freddie, its peaches without the cream; it’s like a broken pencil…pointless! While their voices work well in harmony together, can Chip really compete with those golden Vie pipes, and does he even have the songwriting chops on his own? Well, I’m glad to report that ‘Brainwashed Generation’ goes a long way to prove me wrong.
Joining Chip on this latest excursion is long time guitarist Tory Stoffregen, drummer Daniel Hill and ex Life Sex & Death/AntiProduct legend Alex Kane (back in the band for the first time since 1987). Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx contributes drums for more than half of the album, along with Mike Portnoy and even estranged main man Donnie puts in a guest appearance.
With the basic tracks recorded back in November 2019, mixed and finished off by Chip at home during lockdown you could call ‘Brainwashed Generation one of the first ‘post lockdown’ releases?
Opener ‘Fatal Distraction’ sets the scene with hazy, lazy vocals and great power pop hooks to die for. Chip’s penchant for Cheap Trick is never far from his songbook, and the combination of loud, brash guitar work and a very hummable chorus takes this opener into classic EZN territory.
Ok, Chip you have my attention but any band can put their best tune as an opener, put your money where your mouth is and prove it! As if in reply, the punchy ‘I Got My Money Where My Mouth Is’ follows and puts to bed any doubts that the bassist needs Donnie Vie to carry his songs in 2020. This shows a band full of confidence, urgency and bravado. With continuing Cheap Trick vibes, trademark backing harmonies and a chorus that insists you sit up and take notice, I’m convinced just 2 songs in; they have already done enough to prove EZN are far from a spent force.
It’s impossible to do an Enuff Z’Nuff review and not mention The Beatles. Lennon-esque, sentimental balladry is rife in the likes of ‘It’s All In Vain’ and ‘Broken Love’. Chugging guitars, ringing chords and soaring vocal melodies take this listener to the same heights the likes of ‘Fly High Michelle’ and ‘Right By Your Side’ did back in the day.
Donnie Vie returns for ‘Strangers In My Head’ and it’s no surprise that its an album highlight. His lush tones carry the dark and foreboding tune to another worldly plain. It’s a powerful. riff heavy rocker that sees the writer delve deep inside his own head. So much so, it makes the following ‘Drugland Weekend’ sound like a just another dumb ass rock song, all style and no substance, but hey there’s nowt wrong with that sometimes!
Enuff Z’Nuff never got the breaks they deserved. But let’s face it, most of the greatest bands suffered the same fate! But put an Enuff Z’Nuff greatest hits package together and it stands tall quality wise with any band you would care to mention and that will be their legacy.
‘Brainwashed Generation’ is a surprisingly good album, which recalls their glory days and the best of their influences. Sure, it’s not as good as ‘Strength’ or even ‘Animals…’ song for song, but it’s on a par with anything the band put out after, and that is a good place to be 15 albums into your career.
Chip continues to fly the flag for Enuff Z’Nuff, writing quality tunes and touring the world. It’s all he’s done since the heady 80’s and no one’s gonna stop his love train now.
Buy ‘Brainwashed Generation’ Here
Author: Ben Hughes