Friday, 18 August 2017
Ace Of Spades - Motorhead
Review: The first Motorhead (not doing the umlaut, sorry) album I bought was a live bootleg with terrible sound quality. Every song sounded the same. Having said that, it was still one of the most exciting things I'd heard up until that point.
This was to be my second Motorhead purchase. Why Ace Of Spades? Because it was called 'Ace Of Spades' and had the song 'Ace Of Spades' on it. I really, really like the song 'Ace Of Spades'.
To these ears, 'Ace Of Spades' is the perfect distillation of everything that made Motorhead work. It rattles along at a breakneck pace, an aggressive rip-snorter of a beast unshackled from the bound of propriety and gentility. Like the best rock 'n' roll, it boils everything down to the most basic constituent parts - drums, bass, guitar, voice. There's no dicking about with flutes or mandolins, no vocal harmonies, nary an attempt at a diminished seventh chord. And the vocals? The purest, man-don't-give-a-fuck skull-grin stoicism gutter poetry. It's Rudyard Kipling's 'If-', were Kipling a Ladbroke Grove speed-freak with a pornographically loud bass guitar. 'Ace Of Spades' has the ability to beat the crap out of you within ten seconds if played at the correct volume. I shall never grow bored of it.
You know what's great about Motorhead? They really are, as Lemmy often claimed, a rock 'n' roll band. No doubt they're heavy as all hell, but that's not metal I'm hearing in their sound; it's the thrum of Eddie Cochran, shot through with amphetamines, smoke and rust. The difference is in the dynamic range of the instrumentation - first wave rock 'n' roll often featured thin-sounding guitars and drums that pattered away relatively unobtrusively (when used at all), with vocals and often saxophone to fatten out the sound. Here, drums and an outrageously overdriven bass perform fill out this part of the mix; nor do guitars no Lemmy's inimitable vocals stray too far from the middle, either.
The result? Not a huge amount of depth, which means the only truly trebly sound - the hi-hat - really jumps out at you. Drummer Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor rides that rather loose hi-hat relentlessly, which, coupled with the tempo, creates a clattery, splashy effect that is every bit as important as Lemmy's lawnmower-grind bass. Also, I should add that Lemmy's whiskey-and-razors vocals were absolutely essential, and that he was terribly underrated in that department. Try to imagine anybody else singing Motorhead songs - it feels ridiculous.
Look, here's the deal - if you like what the title track brought to the table, you'll like the rest of the album. Every single diesel-powered bastard of a tune on here exudes the same grimy scuzziness as the one that preceded it. Last time out I reviewed Dio's Holy Diver which for all its merits comes across as rather bloodless in comparison to Ace Of Spades. The Motorhead universe is not one where the pomp of vaguely silly Tolkeinesque fantasy gets a look in. Sentiment is eschewed entirely on Ace Of Spades - 'Bite The Bullet', 'The Chase Is Better Than The Catch' and 'Love Me Like A Reptile' all seem to revel in an almost animalistic view of sexual relations (articulated most clearly on the latter, even if only two of the three examples given in the lyrics are actually reptilians). One gets the impression, from a mere sound recording, that this is a band that could beat the shit out of you and your mates, and would certainly take a piss on you as you lay prone.
I normally don't talk about any bonus tracks on albums I own - they were often omitted from the original collections for a reason - but these are mint. 'Dirty Love' was the b-side to 'Ace Of Spades' and is every bit as good as anything else they recorded in the period. Meanwhile, 'Please Don't Touch' and 'Emergency' come from the St Valentine's Day Massacre EP recorded jointly with Girlschool. Hearing Lemmy and Kim McAuliffe duetting on the former, a cover of a Johnny Kid and the Pirates song, is an absolute, unadulterated joy and further underscores Motorhead's classic rock 'n' roll DNA.
I saw Motorhead live many, many times. Fortunately I got all my experiences in before Lemmy's very public demise, which resulted in truncated shows and confused performances. They were one of those bands who went for the throat every time; there are few finer things in life then witnessing Motorhead firing on all cylinders, tearing full-tilt through 'Overkill' or 'Bomber', pummelling you in the chest with the sonic earthquake they generated. What a band, what a singular band - and what an album.