Sunday, November 6, 2022

"Anti-Hero" and the Further Adventures of Uncle Mo

There are few people in this world more dangerous than a man with nothing left to prove.

At 63, bassist/singer Jerry Only (“Mo” to his family and friends) has done – and survived – it all. As the teenage bassist for Lodi, New Jersey’s legendary Misfits, he was already hitting the stage at CBGB by the spring of 1977. Until 1983, he served as the band’s blue-collar secret weapon – regularly recording and performing with the group while working at his family’s machine shop to fund the entire evil endeavor. Glenn Danzig was the captain on stage, but Mo was the soldier on the streets making things happen. It was a partnership that worked for years until internal disagreements and power struggles led to the classic-era Misfits’ implosion.

In 1995 (and after a head scratch-inducing stint alongside his brother/1980-1983 Misfits guitarist Doyle in the Christian Power Metal band Kryst The Conqueror), Mo set out to put together his own version of The Misfits with Doyle following a lengthy lawsuit with Danzig. After several months of tedious vocalist/drummer auditions, a new Misfits lineup completed by singer Michale Graves and timekeeper Dr. Chud finally emerged. This incarnation of the band lasted for five years and two studio albums before everyone except Mo split. (Naturally, reports on the reasons for the breakup vary. Go ask those guys for answers; I ain’t touching the topic with a 10-foot pole!)

This was when things got interesting. For the next 16 years, the bassist led a frequently changing lineup of the band – let’s call them The MOfits – with himself on lead vocals.

Marky Ramone, former Misfits/Black Flag member Robo, drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce (Murphy’s Law/Skarhead/Electric Frankenstein), Black Flag’s Dez Cadena and even Mo’s son, Jerry Jr. (rechristened “Jerry Other,” tee-hee), all served as MOfits at one point or another.

In the fall of 2016, “The Original Misfits” (a.k.a. Mo and Danzig with Doyle, drum legend Dave Lombardo and second guitarist Acey Slade all serving as hired guns) finally got their legal and interpersonal shit together well enough to do a reunion show in Denver – and they’ve been selling out arenas ever since.

So, where does this leave The MOfits? Well, presumably in the same dead waters as the final, Tony Martin-fronted lineup of Black Sabbath that existed before Ozzy rejoined in 1997. (Many Sabbath fans wondered why the 2006-2010 reunion of the Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath went out on the road as ”Heaven and Hell.” Why was this even a question? Simply put, Ozzy still sells out massive venues on his own, while Dio circa 2006 was a club headliner at best. Going out as “Black Sabbath” with Dio up front would have butchered the Sabbath brand in the marketplace – the same way a new MOFits release or tour would shit all over “The Original Misfits” today. Harsh but true.) Frankly, there’s simply no need for – or public interest in – a MOFits album in 2022. So, what we have instead is Mo’s first-ever solo album, Anti-Hero.

Unencumbered by expectations surrounding the Misfits name, Mo is finally able to stand or fall on his own musical merits and do whatever the hell he wants. This truly is Jerry Only time, and he has the freedom that comes with plenty of hard-earned cash in the bank and absolutely no fucks necessary to give. Heavy on the MOfits vibe but also sonically falling somewhere between glam-era David Bowie and oldies radio (two of the guy’s primary influences), the eight-song Anti-Hero is the album that Mo was born to make.

Retaining MOFits members Arce and Jerry Other – and bringing Slade, Lombardo, Cadena, producer extraordinaire Ed Stasium (who also contributes percussion, guitar and backing vocals), former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, keyboardist/backing vocalist Andy Burton and Dennis Diken of The Smithereens (!!!) along for the ride – Mo has crafted a solid, catchy and memorable record that largely sounds like a mix between The MOFits’ 2011 album, The Devil’s Rain, and 2003’s criminally underrated covers collection, Project 1950. If you enjoy those albums as much as I do, then you’ll find plenty to love on Anti-Hero. If you believe The Misfits broke up in October 1983 and didn’t play again until 2016, then you’re not going to bother with this fucking thing anyway. Those who are willing to give Anti-Hero a fair shake will be treated to a lot of great meat-and-potatoes Mo music here, including the brilliantly anthemic “Snake Eyes” (which gets better with each listen) and the exceptional album closer “Anti-Heroes” (which surprisingly enters Queen territory in spots thanks to some truly fantastic playing by Caggiano, Lombardo and Burton. Those final 69 seconds are fucking amazing!) Other standout moments include the mid-tempo scorcher “Illuminati” (a track bolstered by Arce’s tom-heavy performance) and a raucous rendition of “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”

As for Mo’s singing voice, it still sounds like a fairly passable Robert Gordon impression done by a drunk uncle who’s grabbed the mic late into an Italian wedding reception. I like it just fine – and I even liked it years before The MOFits when I sat next to him as he belted out ’50s classics behind the wheel during an all-day road trip back in ’95. The guy’s having fun and doing his thing. Let him be.

(As an aside, it’s interesting to experience how much The Misfits’ 1995-2000 members’ individual solo endeavors reflect their unique personalities: Mo is Mo, while Doyle’s output is full-on machismo with a “fuck you” attitude. Graves is the sensitive Pop-leaning poet, while Dr. Chud’s goofy Punk/Metal schlock is fueled by the man’s under-the-surface intelligence and vast talents behind the production/engineering desk. It would be an intriguing listen if these four guys ever reconvened to put their collective near quarter-century of post-Misfits artistic growth into a new album together. Fuck, fellas, do it under the moniker “American Psycho” if you have to – just do it before one of you assholes croaks. I’m not the only one who loved and misses your version of the band!)

Mo is a polarizing figure amongst fiends, but there’s no denying the guy’s passion for what he does and the fact he’s busted his ass every step of the way. (I’m not just talking out of my ass here. There were plenty of times in the mid-‘90s when Mo would tirelessly practice the band’s lengthy set even when no one else from the group was available or had bothered to show up. The fill-in drummer for many of these occasions? Yours truly.) The Misfits name may have opened plenty of doors for Mo when he brought the band back from the dead in ’95, but it was his ingenuity and sheer force of will that kept The Misfits in the room for the next 21 years. Mo was the guy who kept The Misfits alive in the market - and thus the band’s back catalog in circulation – until the inevitable reconnection with Glenn took place. The millions-making reunion we’re seeing now would not have happened without Mo’s hard work in the years preceding it. This is not open for debate.

With Anti-Hero, he finally gets his true moment in the spotlight after decades in the trenches, and it’s fucking great.