When Urge Overkill maxed out its fashion plate cheeseball charm, vocalist/guitarist/ international playboy Nash Kato was left all dressed up with nowhere to deliver his clever tongue-in-chic schmaltz. Most listeners recognize Kato only from the band's cover of Neil Diamond's seemingly pedophiliac ballad "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Nonetheless, since its beginning in the mid-'80s, Urge Overkill did the impossible -- hell, the unthinkable -- by capitalizing on its '70s preservation society arena rock aesthetic on such catchy classics as Saturation and Stull. But success took its toll on the trio, whose swan song was the hideously dry and abysmally dull Exit the Dragon.
So, surprisingly, Nash Kato's return to the public eye shows little has changed in his stylish oeuvre. His smirkingly warm vocals sit casual and cool atop swaggering guitar riffs, while a revolving cast of studio musicians lends an array of swank instrumentation. There are many moments when the backing musicians don't seem to "get it" the way Kato's former hyperclever bandmates did. But while some of the grooves and flourishes of Kato's backup band seem unconsciously cheesy, what they lack in taste is redeemed in skilled musicianship that lends more sophistication to Debutante than Urge Overkill was ever capable of providing.
Opening with the UO-style riff rock anthem "Zooey Suicide," Kato evokes a modern archetype of rock 'n' roll excess -- "You wanna die so young, so pretty/ Now I know just how you feel" -- over saturated guitars, pulsating drums, and slick-sounding female backup singers. "Queen of the Gangstas" offers even more traditionally catchy pop hooks, with multiple layers of ringing open-chord guitars and frantic, rolling drums. The Beatles-esque ascending-descending piano melody, muted-trumpet flourishes, and funky rhythmic hook of "Cradle Robbers" take further steps beyond Kato's former band. But while Debutante is loaded with more pop than attitude, the album has moments when the glam rock falls flat. The Kiss-styled nodding cowbell clap and stop 'n' go riff of the title track sound forced into the awkward verse, and the gimmick-laden "Los Angelena" is crammed full of musical clichés. Still, aimed at the arenas instead of the hipster dives, Debutante is a striking new beginning for an artist given up for dead.