ENUFF Z’NUFF – Never Enuff: Rarities & Demos

Enuff Z’Nuff have never been shy of digging up old recordings in the name of a new release. The band began their “patchwork” approach to making albums as far back as 1996 when their sixth release ‘Peach Fuzz’ was constructed from material that wasn’t considered suitable for their 1994 album ‘Tweaked’ and then fleshed out with a couple of b-sides from 1991. In the case of that album, the old-for-new approach could be easily forgiven, since all of the material was first rate. ‘Peach Fuzz’, against the odds, rivals 1991’s ‘Strength’ as EZ’N’s finest hour.

A similar approach yielded diminishing returns for 2009’s ‘Paraphernalia’ and 2000’s ‘10’ which both featured material recorded over a long stretch a few years earlier, with the albums then cobbled together according to mood. Granted, each one featured the occasional gem, but the lack of natural flow that albums like ‘Strength’ and ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ had offered seemed to be absent…and 2004’s ‘?’ even featured guitarist Derek Frigo on a couple of tracks, despite his passing a few years earlier. In terms of scraping the barrel to fulfil some kind of contractual demand, it seemed something of a low point. At least, that is, until ‘Clowns Lounge’ came along in 2016. To be fair, at least ‘Clowns Lounge’ didn’t pretend to be a new record as such – it brought together a bunch of unreleased demos dating from before the release of their debut – but it had none of the sparkle of their even earlier demos collected on ‘1985’, and seemed to serve very little point beyond making a couple of obsessive Japanese fans happy.

This brings us to ‘Never Enuff’, a vast collection of rarities and demos released in the summer of 2021. What we have here is a collection of tracks that, for whatever reason, weren’t considered good enough for ‘Clowns Lounge’ – an album made up of demo recordings that weren’t considered good enough for re-recording and release some twenty plus years earlier. With that in mind, you might think ‘Never Enuff’ digs up the worst of the dregs, but within this huge set, you’ll actually find various songs that are actually superior to everything on ‘Clowns Lounge’ and even better than the few older bits that helped flesh out the ‘?’ album. Obviously, the source material is never pristine, but that’s to be expected. As usual, very little info is supplied about their origins beyond “being from the 80s”, but it should be assumed that everything falls somewhere between 1987 and 1989 since the bulk of the best stuff doesn’t have the power pop sounds of the 1985 material, and its best tracks sound much, much closer to the finished debut from 1989.

Disc one, subtitled ‘McNulty’s Basement’, begins with a genuine gem. With fuzzy guitars, slightly hazy vocals and a sunny demeanour ‘Bye Bye Love’ could easily slot onto the debut record without feeling out of place. Derek Frigo’s lead guitar lines weaving in and out of the hard edged riffs provide something of an instant highlight – as well as an urge to play ‘Strength’ as soon as possible – whilst Donnie Vie’s lead vocal gymnastics pull as much emotion as possible from some huge notes before diving into a the familiar sound that made the early EZ’N records so thrilling. With an array of Cheap Trick-esque harmonies filling the main hook and a firm adherence to a three minute, radio friendly playing time, this is the Enuff Z’Nuff classic that never was. It’s great to hear this in something close to finished quality, since it starts this lengthy journey through the past with best foot forward. From here on, everything else is far more of a demo quality, meaning it’s very much down to the listener to recognise the quality of the songs – or not – beyond any audio shortcomings.

‘I Won’t Forget’ comes with a very demo level sound and merely sounds like Chip and Donnie recycling some old Rubettes tunes augmented by a few Cheap Trick-esque guitars, but still manages to give a reasonable insight into the ingredients that made their debut LP so cool. Especially of note here is the way Vie recycles a familiar 70s melody and still seems to make it his own, while Frigo underscores some reasonable glam-pop chops with odd, shimmering guitar lines that elevate the material far beyond its basic pop origins. The lovely pop-oriented ‘Just What You Want’ flaunts an intro that sounds as if George Harrison circa 1975 has been hugely influential, before the bulk of the track falls in line with a late 70s brand of power pop with echoes of Shoes and Flamin’ Groovies utilised effectively throughout. In terms of chorus, there’s a decent stab at multi-layered harmonies and despite the final product not sounding as sharp as peak EZ’N, the potential within the band is very clear. Equally cool, the slower ‘I Can’t Get Over You’ acts as a vague blueprint for tracks like ‘I Could Never Be Without You’ and provides something of an illuminating glimpse into Chip and Donnie feeling their way around ballad territory. There’s more than enough that’s in need of tightening up – not least of all the tune being marred by a clanky rhythm – but with some tight harmonies in place, Vie’s natural ability with a descending vocal fill and a few tasty flourishes from the guitar (which could be Frigo, could be Gino Martino) there’s enough to suggest this could’ve been great in time.

‘Girl Crazy’ offers three minutes of frivolous power pop that comes closest to the best bits of the ‘Hollywood Squares’ demo tape, with some terrific multi-layered guitar lines and more festively-oriented bells than such a demo deserves, and ‘Everyone Says No’ drops into some dark and spooky vibes that suggest the more ominous tones of the ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ album were actually there from the beginning. It’s a shame that such a cool sound couldn’t have a memorable song attached, but it still manages to give a briefly interesting glimpse into a band unafraid of stretching out. Of a lesser quality, ‘Tears Away’ sounds like an inexperienced rock band pounding away in a garage. It’s leaden four-four beats are tiring in their unimaginative Lennon-esque doldrums, while the drum sound used to accentuate the passing of each boring bar is especially cumbersome. Still, somewhere within the relentless plod, Vie is already shaping up to be a distinctive vocalist and, perhaps, with a bit more tweaking – pun very much intended – there’s something here that could have been reworked into one of the band’s drearier tunes in the mid 90s. Also from the pile marked “nowhere near ready”, ‘New Night Tonight’ trudges through another lumpen four-four beat while Vie makes several random vocal noises that sound as if they’re being amplified by a plastic bucket. Granted, most of the flaws are down to the old demo not being as clear as you’d hope, but there doesn’t seem to be the faintest glimmer of an interesting song here either.

Disc two dredges up fifteen tracks recorded at Prairie Street (again, no exact date given) and it’s interesting that, assuming this set is presented chronologically – it’s all guess work with Chip – the band don’t seem to have evolved at all. It’s almost as if they arrived in the world with their best sounds ready to go, and musically, they’re ploughing the same furrow. From an audio perspective, these demos sound a little more expensive and in ‘Temporarily Disconnected’ fans will surely recognise the chunky yet fuzzy sounds of the band’s debut album around the corner. Although this track could’ve used a slightly bigger pre-chorus to reel people in, there’s a nugget of goodness in the chorus itself thanks to some well placed harmonies and Vie raising his voice in a very confident way. ‘Million Miles Away’ finds the band exploiting their knack for harmonies throughout, and although a chugging riff doesn’t necessarily give those vocals – and a massive hook – the most inventive send off, the track itself shows enough promise to suggest it should’ve been polished up for later use on ‘Peach Fuzz’.

‘Higher’ represents EZ’N on autopilot in many ways, working through a vaguely 60s tinged glam rock groove where some chunky guitar chords are contrasted with some fine vocals. As with ‘Bye Bye Love’, everything about this points towards the debut, and it’s great enough to make you wish this had been chosen for a future spit ‘n’ polish instead of the wretched ‘Little Indian Angel’ or forgettable ‘For Now’. A little more interesting, though certainly not as catchy, ‘1-2-3’ flaunts a world of phased guitar effects and vocal filters that preface the harder sounds of EZ’N’s ‘Paraphernalia’ LP. It’s certainly very much a guitar playing highlight on this set, as well as being a massive eye opener on how much time the band actually spent on demo recordings. Also very much worth an ear is the Beatles-obsessed ‘Why Does It Have To End’, a buoyant tune that would certainly inspire the likes of ‘Wheels’ much further down the track. Here, there’s a terrific insight into “EZ’N the shameless power pop merchants”, injecting a little psychedelia into a world of 70s rock and although the chorus could’ve used a bit of extra work, it just about gets away with its repetitious nature thanks to the addition of lots of multi-tracked and filtered harmonies.

As before, for every great tune, there’s something either not quite ready, or occasionally even horrible. ‘Enough’s Enough’ sounds like a cheap Elvis Costello demo that doesn’t even have the benefit of a chorus; ‘Number One’ is uncharacteristically rocky, but also vaguely awkward as a result – very much a case of a reasonable riff being left in the wrong hands – and ‘Soldiers Story’ conjures a mood that sounds like 10cc if heard through a wet sock. In addition, these sessions are blighted by two offensively bad songs… ‘Valentine’ is a misjudged attempt at fusing a late 60s neo-psych spookiness to the kind of heavier riffs that would inform the ‘Animals With Human Intelligence’ LP in 1993. A weird Frankenstein creation, it makes it seem as if the band have stepped far outside of their comfort zone, and it’s easy to see why this tune wasn’t developed further. Almost as iffy, ‘Falling In Love’ throws out jagged riffs against a misplaced drum machine while Vie wails and warbles as if he’s forgotten which session he’s recording vocals for. A chorus of any sort might have helped, but a forced melody chewing its way through two lines stretched over an uncomfortable rhythm really doesn’t work for the best. In some ways, it sounds like Cheap Trick being played over bits of Andy Taylor’s ‘Thunder’ LP – a weird mish-mash of rock that almost seems to want to fail.

The third disc (recorded at Longwood Towers) brings together a further thirteen tracks, which is enough to make you realise that – along with the excellent ‘Hollywood Squares’ demo which was polished up for the ‘1985’ release – these guys had pretty much written half a career’s worth of songs long before even getting a recording contract. Again, it’s all very much a curate’s egg, and the high’s aren’t always as high, but a few tracks stand out among the demo quality ideas. ‘Crazy Night’ is a terrific glam-popper with ar massive chorus worthy of the first two EZ’N albums, given further brilliance via a quirky lead guitar throughout showing how Derek Frigo was already one of the scene’s most inventive players; the reverb drenched ‘Holding Out For More’ could be a prototype for most of the debut and despite a misjudged, angry expletive, it very much showcases the feelgood vibes that EZ’N would use to battle against the era’s heavier bands, and ‘How Does It Feel’ provides another near perfect voyage into a psychedelic rock sound that offers Vie a very sympathetic backdrop for a selection of soaring vocals. There’s so much riding between a confident vocal and ringing guitar parts, it’s a travesty this wasn’t recorded properly during the ‘Strength’ or ‘Tweaked’ sessions. A semi-hazy, almost other worldly arrangement such as this would’ve certainly given the latter a genuine boost without feeling too far out of place.

Even looked at in terms of demos, it’s hard to work out why ‘Somewhere Else For Me’ was even included within this set. The source tape is thin; the music, although complete, doesn’t have anything in common with the tracks surrounding it, and in terms of retro pop, it’s strange fascination with a bubblegum oriented sound feels very much forced. Judging by the likes of ‘Happy Holiday’, it’s clear EZ’N are quite adept at the frivolous and throwaway, but this is definitely lacking something. Maybe a couple more guitar fills would help; then again, it might still sound awkward – only louder. The slow and somewhat dreary ‘So Fine’ includes a couple of good vocal flourishes, but is a musically dull mid-tempo affair with clanging guitars underscoring a tired sounding arrangement, resulting in what feels like the longest four minutes ever. Thankfully, that’s swiftly followed by ‘Cupid’s Laughing’ which kicks off with some rather tasty lead guitar, and although it doesn’t quite capture this band at their best, the chunky power pop that ensues is certainly strong enough for listeners to recognise the genesis of something great, albeit retrospectively.

Rounding out the third disc, ‘Look What You Do’ couples something that’s very obviously EZ’N with a few moments that have been culled from a slightly funkier source, as if someone had been listening to Tommy Bolin’s ‘Teaser’ before going into the studio, whilst ‘Tara Nichole’ is a likeable enough pop rocker that has echoes of Squeeze battling through a slightly rough recording and slightly intrusive guitar part, and ‘Still Lovers’ serves up an upbeat power pop tune where muted chords take precedence over the band’s usually much broader sound. There’s enough in the jubilant chorus to make this feel like EZ’N in their natural environment, but the addition of a few bits that sound like The Cars in overdrive are certainly welcome. Overall, it would be fair to say these are very much the kind of tunes you’ll be sort of glad you’ve heard, and very much help ‘Never Enuff’ feel so much more like a valid project.

Ultimately, ‘Never Enuff’ presents the greatest “what if…”: the opportunity to hear the best moments from these three demo sessions in ‘Strength’-like studio quality and played by the classic Enuff Z’Nuff line-up at the top of their game surely would have been a wondrous thing… As it is, somewhere within this mammoth forty track set, there’s a fifteen track album of great material, even with the demo quality taken into consideration. Presented in its current “all or nothing” guise, though, there’s so much about ‘Never Enuff’ that just feels…so overwhelming. It’s a proper task wading through everything to discover the potential gold, and sometimes the sheer bulk of the release makes it difficult to appreciate how good some of the good stuff actually is. It’s even more difficult to believe that there would still be enough fans left who’d be that keen to hear even more second and third tier stuff from Chip’s seemingly bottomless archive. However, for better or worse, here it is, and if you’ve had any interest in Enuff Z’Nuff in the past, chances are there’ll be something of interest for you in here. Just don’t expect finding the best tunes to be an especially easy task.

July 2021