Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Animals with Human Intelligence: Revisiting Enuff Z'Nuff's Overlooked Masterpiece

Who was Rolling Stone’s “Hot Band of 1991”?

If you guessed Nirvana, you’re wrong. Pearl Jam? Not even close.

When the magazine published its annual “Hot” issue on May 16 of that year—four months and eight days prior to the release of a little album called Nevermind— it bestowed its high honor upon Enuff Z’Nuff, a band that had already received weeks’ worth of critical acclaim for its second album, Strength.

Formed in Illinois in 1984 and initially heard by the masses via a self-titled 1989 album on ATCO Records, Enuff Z’Nuff—fronted by the duo of singer/guitarist Donnie Vie and bassist Chip Z’ Nuff—quickly became MTV darlings via a pair of bulletproof singles (“New Thing” and “Fly High Michelle”) that were accompanied by suitably glammy videos. (This was still the era of Aquanet-spraying dudes in lipstick, after all). Sure, the fellas were kitschy and fun, but the over-the-top image that accompanied their debut album often overshadowed the fact that Chip and Donnie were extraordinary Power Pop songwriters who could give Squeeze’s Difford and Tilbrook a run for their money. (Image “Fly High Michelle” without the outlandish video and the glossy production of its era. I rest my case.)

Strength was Enuff Z’Nuff’s opportunity to shake off its “Glam” tag and be considered for its actual songs—and for a short time, the move had paid off. Arguably the best entry in the group’s lengthy discography, Strength was a Beatles-meets-Badfinger-via-Bon Jovi tour de force that should be one of the albums readily on top of music lovers’ minds today when they think back to the year that spawned it. Of course, the music industry had changed considerably by the end of ’91, and Enuff Z’ Nuff's it-thing spotlight had already started to fade.  

Of course, nobody in the Enuff Z’Nuff camp knew that at the time. The band began recording what would become 1993’s Animals with Human Intelligence with the support if its new label, Arista. The band also had powerhouse manager Herbie Herbert—best known as the man who guided Journey toward stadium-level success—in tow. Famed Def Leppard engineer Nigel Green signed on to mix the record, and Arista head Clive Davis brought in Richie Zito—who had produced hits for Heart, Cheap Trick, and Poison—to put his finishing touch on the proceedings after the band had already completed a good chunk of the album on its own at the Chicago Recording Company. Hell, even the likes of Dweezil Zappa, Steve Stevens, Cinderella, Stevie Salas, Micki Free, and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen would stop by the sessions to check out how things were going.

The above scenario was just too perfect for the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Naturally, it didn’t take long for things to go sideways.

“Unfortunately, Richie didn’t show up for some of those sessions because he was robbed at his house one night, kidnapped, and thrown into the trunk of his car with his wife! A neighbor heard him banging on it!” Chip recalls. “Obviously, it ruffled his feathers, but he ended up coming to do some stuff [with us] over at One on One Studios and A&M Studios in Los Angeles. We did overdubs [with him], but the guitar was too loud for Richie to handle."

To make matters worse, long-serving drummer Vik Foxx bailed at the end of the album’s sessions to take a gig with then-former Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil. Chip, Donnie, and guitarist Derek Frigo soldiered on with new timekeeper Ricky Parent.

Despite these bumps in the road, Enuff Z’Nuff ended up with another fantastic album.

“Clive chose the songs, and we provided him with strong material. Sonically, Animals with Human Intelligence is probably one of the strongest records we’ve ever recorded.”

Right from the first notes of album opener “Superstitious,” it’s difficult to disagree with Chip’s appraisal of the 12-song collection. Boasting hooks for days and expertly produced to power up its every note, Animals with Human Intelligence was a perfect album for Rock radio in 1993. “Black Rain,” “Master of Pain,” and “Bring It on Home” sat very comfortably next to Soundgarden or Stone Temple Pilots, while the record’s best number, “Mary Anne Lost Her Baby,” flawlessly married the sonic grit of the early ‘90s with the ‘80s glaze that had once made Enuff Z’ Nuff shine. Hell, even the album’s big power ballad, “Right By Your Side” —a track that stays in your head for days upon first listen—had enough balls to it to overcome any eye-rolls from the Siamese Dream crowd.*  

Not surprisingly, expectations within the Enuff Z’Nuff camp were high. Unfortunately, excitement over the album’s potential chart performance was short-lived.

“It was a solid record; we could tell we had something special,” Chip says. “But at the time it came out, there was a changing of the guard in the music business. You had Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana—all that stuff was coming in. Bands that were considered colorful and flamboyant were pushed to the side for a while—there was a whole new musical trend that was happening.”

Obviously, Enuff Z’ Nuff wasn’t the only band affected by the shift. Despite delivering one of their heaviest albums ever with 1993’s Revenge, the members of KISS quickly found themselves playing to half-empty arenas. Released the same year, Warrant’s decidedly unglamorous Dog Eat Dog got the era’s sound right but failed to connect with record buyers. The following year, a Vince Neil-less Mötley Crüe released a self-titled album that successfully captured the vibe of the times but ultimately stiffed in the marketplace. The party was over.

As great as it was, Animals with Human Intelligence didn’t stand a chance. For one thing, the album cover shot of Donnie, Chip, and Derek looked like a relic from a discarded era. Looking back now, it seems insane to assume that anyone in 1993 outside of the group’s devoted fanbase would have given the thing a listen. Before long, Enuff Z’Nuff would learn exactly how much the world had changed.

On the first night of the tour in support of the album, the band’s bus hit another car while pulling out of a venue in Iowa. Things got worse from there.

“Instead of playing to a jam-packed 800-seat venue, there would be 300 people there,” Chip reveals. “We were following around a band called Korn, and all their venues were 1,000-seaters. We just knew we were in big trouble. We sold about 250,000 copies of the album. Back then, that was considered a failure. We continued to move forward. We toured for a whole year on that record, and we went into considerable debt.”

Enuff Z’Nuff’s relationship with Arista didn’t fare much better. During the band’s showcase at the Roxy in Los Angeles for Davis and his constituents, Donnie stuck a dozen red roses between Davis’ legs as he introduced his new signees on stage—perhaps not the best way to endear yourself to a new boss.

To be fair, Animals with Human Intelligence did get a decent promotional push. The band performed “Superstitious” on Late Night with David Letterman, and longtime friend and fan Howard Stern still hyped the band on his airwaves. But it was too late.

As the dust settled, Herbert suggested that it was time for the band to part ways with Arista. Chip agreed.

“Herbie told us that we had confused motion with progress. In hindsight, I can see how Arista had trouble with Rock bands—Clive was used to signing bands that had Pop hits. We found ourselves in a position where we had to go somewhere else. We thought perhaps we’d go the indie label route.

“A lot of bands went away or took a break, but we continued to work and put out records,” he adds. “We were hungry, and we didn’t want to stop. We knew we had good music and songs and made solid records. It was just a matter of finding an audience that would listen to us.”

Fortunately, that’s exactly what Enuff Z’Nuff did. Although the crowds are smaller now than they were in the band’s ATCO heyday, Chip (who now fronts the band on vocals in addition to playing bass following Donnie’s departure a decade ago) has consistently released stellar music for the past 30 years—including five Enuff Z’Nuff albums and a solo release (Perfectly Imperfect) from 2016 to 2022 alone.

Sadly, Derek passed away in 2004, followed by Ricky three years later.

“Right By the Side” had some legs in the ensuing years. The song was covered with tremendous Pop aplomb by the Norwegian group The Tuesdays in 1995. Fourteen years later, Chicago-based rapper Malik Yusef—with Kanye West and Destiny Child’s Michelle Williams in tow—gave it the Hip-Hop treatment on his G.O.O.D. Morning, G.O.O.D. Night album.

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Animals with Human Intelligence will receive a vinyl, digital, and CD re-release** by Deadline Music on September 29.

The cover of the upcoming reissue of Animals with Human Intelligence on Deadline Music. 

Will this upcoming reissue set the world on fire in 2023? Probably not. Should the album get some long-overdue attention and a belated acknowledgment of its greatness? Absolutely.

As far as this writer’s concerned, an Enuff Z’ Nuff gig at some shithole on a Thursday night is infinitely more rewarding than a sold-out Saturday night arena show by an artist with less talent and feeling. No question.

If you’re my age, you likely look back at the Hair Metal years with great fondness. You also likely know that a lot of that stuff was disposable garbage. But not Chip and Donnie circa 1993. If you give Animals with Human Intelligence a listen today, you’ll quickly realize that our generation’s Lennon and McCartney were hiding in plain sight all along.

*Although Enuff Z’Nuff may not have appealed to most of The Smashing Pumpkins’ fanbase, the same certainly couldn’t be said for the band’s frontman, Billy Corgan—a longtime fan who guested on Enuff Z’ Nuff’s 1999 album, Paraphernalia.

** “Fingertips,” a track that appeared on the Japanese issue of the original album release, is said to be included on the upcoming reissue.

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