Sunday, 9 December 2018
Motley Crue - Motley Crue
Review: Where does one start with this curio? Perhaps a little context would be helpful.
Until about 1993, US MTV viewers had to put up with a lot of hairspray and decadence. Motley Crue (I'm not bothering with the umlaut, guys), bolstered by albums such as Shout at the Devil, Theatre of Pain and Dr Feelgood, were one of the earliest and most successful acts from the glam era. They were rich, famous and cool - and then grunge happened.
Unlike the fabled Punk Year Zero that supposedly reset the clock in the UK (lol, no, Genesis still sold bucketloads in the wake of Lydon, Strummer et al), the rise of alt-rock in the US genuinely swept away the spandex brigade almost wholesale. A few of the big boys endured - Guns N Roses were dangerous and credible, Bon Jovi erred close enough to blue-collar likeability - but some, like Motley Crue, didn't. That's not to say that sales entirely dried up, but suddenly they and their peers were chasing a zeitgeist rather than creating one. Bands scrambled to appear hip to the new scene, with Warrant, KISS and Def Leppard all coming out with albums that strove to appear edgier. What it did was make them look desperate. And thus we have Motley Crue, erstwhile-hair farmers reinvented as 1994 alt-metal tyros.
The most immediate difference to that which came before are the vocals - and it's an improvement. I have never been the biggest Motley Crue fan due in large part to Vince Neil's unappealing hooting and yelping. Given the direction the band took here, had he not left in 1992 Neil would've been frankly floundering. John Corabi's grittier, more soulful delivery is a good fit for a collection of tracks that is more mid-paced and downbeat than anything Crue had hitherto deigned to release.
However - the big problem here is that the whole album feels like an exercise in pastiche, as if someone had tasked a competent band to produce an ersatz version of what was lighting up the charts at the time. 'Power to the Music', the opener, is the sound of a group that grasps what's happening at surface level without any deeper level of understanding, and it's frankly laughable to hear good-time hedonists Motley Crue suddenly develop an urge to tackle paedophilia ('Uncle Jack'). That's some dark fucking shit bro!
The missteps continue. In the space of three songs they've used that modish compressed voice effect you hear on Soundgarden's 'Spoonman" (also 1994) twice, although in the second instance it feels less egregious because 'Hooligan's Holiday' is a legitimately fun track, sounding like something that could've adorned Skid Row's Slave to the Grind (which is a compliment, trust me). It mixes tempos and dynamics nicely, a punchy head-nodder that overcomes its ridiculous lyrical content with ease. Meanwhile, 'Misunderstood' threatens to actually lift proceedings through a change of pace and a welcome injection of subtlety. It starts off like the kind of woozy, dreamy ballad that Aerosmith could do and Corabi even sounds like Steve Tyler for the first half of the song. Sadly, as with everything else on Motley Crue any hint of a good idea is bludgeoned to oblivion, in this instance by kicking it up into generic heavy 'rawk'. About the only time Crue break outside of the cage is 'Loveshine', which sounds appealingly like a Tesla ballad. It's light and breezy, and over in two and a half minutes on an album that clocks in at over an hour in run time.
There's one more highlight to come - 'Poison Apples', which sounds like a bouncy, slick Quireboys boogie, albeit with the chorus to the Manic Street Preachers' 'You Love Us' (yes, really) grafted on top. But I like that song, and I like the Quireboys, so it's a winner for me. It's the last time Crue keep things relatively carefree; from then on, signores Mars, Lee and Sixx furrow their brows and do theur best to appear pissed off with the world. And it's boring! It's fucking boring! And that's the biggest sin of all. Motley Crue can be many things - frothy, boneheaded, insubstantial, idiotic, annoying - but not dull. Yet here I am, anxiously awaiting the little zip noise that signals that the CD is over. 'Til Death Do Us Part', 'Welcome to the Numb' (really?), 'Smoke the Sky', 'Droppin' Like Flies', 'Driftaway' - all the different shades of shit are represented here. Call it what you will - a crawl, a plod, a drag - but the last twenty-five minutes of this already flawed attempt at relevance are awful, a purgatory that not even hair metal fans should be subjected to.
It's got its defenders. It's got those who think that it should've been released under a name other than Motley Crue (one I'm sympathetic with). Largely, though, it's got those who saw it on the shelves or caught 'Hooligan's Holiday' on MTV and responded with a collective shrug. I have now listened to Motley Crue twice over the course of two days, hoping that spending a little quality time with the album would reveal its hidden charms to me. That didn't happen. Ultimately I ended up not giving a pig's eye one way or the other. Welcome to the numb, I guess.