Today it’s time to get into one of my absolute favorite albums. The second Skid Row album came at the tail end of the “hair metal” era and delivered such a fierce punch that the band would outlive their genre by several years.
Skid Row – Slave To The Grind
Released June 11, 1991 via Atlantic Records
My Favorite Tracks – Wasted Time, Slave To The Grind, Riot Act
Skid Row made quite the fuss with their self-titled debut album in 1989, moving several million records and getting hit singles with the ballads I Remember You and 18 & Life. It seemed as though the group should have a cakewalk to more success, yet things were not certain for anyone by the album’s release date of summer 1991.
Skid Row would throw their own wrench into the formula – instead of writing about love, sex and partying, they crafted an album with heavy themes about society’s ills and problems. The topical shift would be very timely, as the great hair party of the ’80’s was coming to a quick close. Skid Row had a bit more bite and edge to them anyway, so their focus on more worldly affairs would benefit them as the rock tides shifted through the rest of 1991.
The album was recorded without event and with the same line-up that offered the debut. Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill were the guitar tandem. Rachel Bolan was on bass and joined Sabo to write the bulk of the music. Rob Affuso manned the drums, and the singer with the insane voice was Sebastian Bach.
There is a lot to talk about today, as the album is loaded with tracks and was also offered in different versions – a “clean” copy for sale at major retailers with the song Beggar’s Day, and an explicit version with Get The Fuck Out instead. Though it’ll make for a super long post, I’m going to take the step of including both songs in this rundown. Both are worthy of discussion and modern versions include both in some capacity so I’ll give both the time. That will provide 13 songs with a runtime over 50 minutes so there’s a lot to go over.
The opening track was also the album’s lead single and hit MTV a bit before album release. The song starts off slow but quickly establishes that is is, in fact, a complete ass kicker of a track. It’s a heavy, groovy song that slams in and stomps all over the place. The lyrics are pretty crazy and not entirely clear, it could be about addiction or just the shit state of people down on their luck, or some other metaphorical thing not clear on reading.
Slave To The Grind
The title track was another single and also another total monster of a song. It slams in right off the start and does not relent to the end, it is a flat out banger. It is a dire look at the “assembly line” nature of soulless, grinding work life and the desire to break out of it, a tale as old as time, or at least industry. And sadly, it hasn’t gotten any better in the 32 years since the song came out.
So far this album has not let up, this is again another one that pounds the listener into dust. The band maybe lets off by a hair on this one but that isn’t saying much, this still goes hard. It has to do with the rebel or outsider being a threat to the status quo of society, which is the place rock music occupied for much of its viable life. This is definitely not a “bang bang, good time, hookers and blow” album.
And now we take it way down for the first of a few ballads. But unlike the generic “love you, miss you” ballads that were a dime a dozen in hair metal’s heyday, Skid Row kept all of them here on different and darker themes.
The song tackles the issue of religious faith and how it can come and go depending on life’s circumstances. While the song was not in any way challenging religion, the usual televangelist hacks took exception to the song and complained about it on TV. There is no room for nuance when you’re screaming about things on TV in the name of God for money.
The next track picks the pace back up and also serves as the most direct link between this and Skid Row’s first album. It’s another straigt-ahead banger with lyrics that evoke some seriously twisted stuff. And the truth behind the words is even more sinister than the songs lets on – Rachel Bolan has stated that Sebastian Bach wrote the song about a prostitute who kills her customers before she does the job she was hired for.
Now it’s onto the 6th track and the one that can be different based on which version of the album you’re looking at. Beggar’s Day was the song for the clean version of the records. To the shock of no one, this is another total headbanger about some gal named Suzie who is apparently going after some people. No real clear meaning here but the song is a total banger and should have been included on all versions of the album. It does not detract from the album at all and in fact plenty of fans dig this one more than the dirty song that replaced it.
Get The Fuck Out
The song for the explicit version is pretty clear in its message and reason why it was excluded from mass retail sale. A lot of hair metal played around the central issues it was dealing with using clever turns of phrase and stuff like that. This song just spells it out – we partied, we had a good time, now it’s over so get the fuck out. It is pretty crude but that’s honestly more refreshing than years of beating around the bush like many bands did.
Livin’ On A Chain Gang
The hard rocking keeps right up here with another song about the shitty parts of civilization and how the powers that be keep people down for profit. These songs don’t offer much in the way of hope out of the cycle, but we can at least headbang through it.
It’s another visit to the sleazy side of life here. Not a whole lot to discuss, other than the lyric “hit me with a shovel ’cause I can’t believe I dug you.” That has to be one of music’s most immortal lines ever, I can’t believe Bob Dylan or Paul Simon hadn’t come up with that one years before Skid Row.
In A Darkened Room
Up next is another ballad and this one is a tough one. The lyrics aren’t entirely clear about it, but the song is about child abuse. While some rock and metal bands have gone into weird places when handling this topic, Skid Row did a pretty good job crafting what turns out to be a very sad song about it.
It’s not only back to the hard and heavy but it’s time for a bit of punk. It’s a total slam of the institution and powers that be, a favorite target of the Skids by this point. The song makes being a rebel and outcast cool and turns the conventional wisdom of society on its head. It isn’t necessarily a viable life path but it’s still fun.
It’s one more slamming tune. This one goes a tick slower than a lot of others but keeps a heavy tone throughout. This one is a bit obscure but it’s still taking aim at the system’s corruption but there’s no easy to digest narrative here. By this late point of the album it’s just rage and go.
The album closes with a third ballad and another single. This one goes to a whole other place as it explores the dark depths of drug addiction. The song was inspired by the struggles of former Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler, a friend of the band. It is a tremendous song and my favorite on the album. I won’t say too much more about it since I’ve already done that – the song was a prior S-Tier song pick – that post can be found here.
Slave To The Grind was another success for Skid Row. The album hit the top of the Billboard 200 on release and would go on to double platinum certification in the US. It also got various gold, silver and platinum awards in other former British colonies and the UK itself. None of the five singles were huge hits like the pair of ballads from the first album, but critical and fan response for this second album was over the moon.
Skid Row would go on a series of huge tours on this album cycle – first opening for Guns N’ Roses that summer, including the infamous riot show in St. Louis. Then the Skids took out Pantera and Soundgarden for a trek, essentially foreshadowing the changing of the guard to come. All of this was going on as the hair metal kingdom was going down in flames. Skid Row themselves did not fall victim until a few years later when they tried emulating the sound of the times and fell on their faces, eventually splitting Bach from the rest of the band.
While it can be said that Skid Row didn’t enjoy the same level of success found on their debut record, it’s no doubt that Slave To The Grind was a fantastic achievement. The album flows well even loaded down with so many songs and the theme and heavy vibe through the record keeps the band out of the cliche territory that helped usher in the end of the hair days. Skid Row’s edge and attitude might have cut a bit too hard at times for off-stage antics, but it was the perfect recipe for successful hard rock in 1991.
6 thoughts on “Skid Row – Slave To The Grind (Album of the Week)”
Agreed, this one is awesome. The heavier edge definitely saved them from fading away quickly and instantly became a favorite of mine as well. I still need this on vinyl.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I do too, I really wish they’d do a more accessible pressing of it
Great pick. Killer album through and through. When I listen to this album now it does not sound like an album that is 32 years young!
I caught them live 5 times between August 89 and June 92. Now they are actually coming to town in October with Buckcherry so I got tix to that!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Damn that’s a lot of shows, great time to see them too
I love this album. I caught em live on this tour cycle, when they opened up for GnR in Australia. They were maniacs, with their middle finger in the air against the establishment. And you can hear that attitude and maniacal energy in the grooves.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yeah they captured rebellion really well on this record.
LikeLiked by 1 person