For close to a decade, Motley Crue was dismissed as a hair band that owed nothing to the musical landscape. In fact they were blamed for most of the glam metal of the 1980's. However, time has gradually turned the page and told a different story. This motley group of misfits once ridiculed for their looks and music, have become a widely esteemed influence in the last half decade thanks to a slew of alternative bands who continually point to Motley Crue, specifically Nikki Sixx's lyrics, as a source of inspiration. This is a far cry from the bashing all 80's bands received in the mid-90's. Say what you want about Motley Crue, but they wanted to be the biggest and baddest band in the world...and became just that. There have been different singers and more drama in their lives than a soap opera...but beneath it all, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx have remained four idiosyncratic individuals who defined the hard rock musical landscape for a decadent decade.
This brings us to the new tour and their latest "Best of" collection: "Red, White and Crue", a 2-disc, 37 track album encompassing the band's entire career. The question arises; Did the world need another Motley Crue "Greatest Hits" collection? Probably not. Their first one, 1991's "Decade of Decadence" was almost a stand-alone album with nine of the album's fifteen tracks being unique to that set. 1998's "Greatest Hits" collection was a more straightforward affair in an attempt to reinvigorate the band's career, which worked until Tommy unexpectedly left the band the following year. Since then there has been a "20th Century Masters" collection and two box sets covering every song the band recorded through 1994. In short, to say there is a surplus of catalog material is an understatement. While I appreciate compilations, the Crue's output of collections in recent years is overkill. However, against my better wishes, I will say this is finally the definitive package for Crue heads. By allowing two discs to spread the wealth of material, it permits the band to encompass their entire career, including tracks from their self-titled 1994 album with John Corabi.
The intensity of these songs comes into focus on these two discs. These four lost souls came together and their vigor, hostility, determination, rage and dysfunction led them to be one of the defining acts of the 1980's and early 1990's. These were four spirits who found each other out of destiny. Say what you want, but that same aggression is still potent almost a quarter century later. Like The Ramones and The Clash, Motley Crue's music came out of rage from within. This fury was rooted and expunged through their first two albums, "Too Fast For Love" and "Shout At The Devil". The unheralded energy can be heard on debut on the songs "Live Wire", "Piece of the Action" and "Too Fast For Love". For their sophomore album, the hostility was cranked up to deafening volumes on "Shout At The Devil", "Looks That Kill" and the Beatles cover, "Helter Skelter", a vociferous track that probably would have made Charles Manson himself shake in his cell. As fame and fortuned blessed them with excess, amazingly, only one album during this time was a throwaway, "Theatre of Pain" (it also contributes the only waste of space on disc 1, "Use It Or Lose It"). Even the band disowns this album (all of it except "Home Sweet Home", of which the original version is surprisingly missing from this set). However, throughout the decadent drug intake, they managed to spew out "Girls, Girls, Girls" with tunes that would give you a piercing high greater than speed: the title track, "Wild Side", "All In The Name Of." and the nauseous and warped ballad, "You're All I Need". All of these tunes showcased that even in their most decadent phase, they were still capable of giving the world tunes that stood up to their auspicious early days.
Motley Crue's biggest turning point was getting clean and sober in 1989. Where most bands would lose a certain edge with age, these four men looked inward and found a guardian angel to guide them to their most successful and complete album, "Dr. Feelgood". Producer Bob Rock left long time protégée Brice Fairburn (whom he was lead wingman for helping out on Bon Jovi's monstrous 80's albums) and grew wings and flew higher and louder than anyone ever imagined. With the clarity of the newly sober boys, the band gave the world their most melodic and thunderous tunes: "Kickstart My Heart", "Same Ol' Situation", "Don't Go Away Mad" and the title track. The melancholy ballad, "Without You", gave the band their second top-ten hit and their first number one album outselling albums by rock's other bad boys: Aerosmith's "Pump" and the Rolling Stones "Steel Wheels". Bob Rock gave the Motley albums the sonic upgrade they needed, but he also pushed them deeper resulting in arguably the band's zenith track "Primal Scream" released on 1991's hits package "Decade of Decadence". Sadly, that is where the chemistry and momentum was peaked. Shortly thereafter Vince was fired or left the band (depending on who you talk to). Vince went on to make two solo albums and while Bob Rock and Motley carried on with the a rather superb self titled album featuring John Corabi in 1994, the momentum and magic of where the original four members were going after "Primal Scream" would be forever gone.
In 1997, difference and agendas were put to the wayside and Vince returned to the fold. "Generation Swine" showcased Tommy and Nikki forging the band's sound in new alternative directions, which disgruntled many old school Crue fans. However, the secret to any band's longevity is to always be pushing the envelope and to never settle on a safe sound. While parts of "Swine" clearly fall flat (most notably the title track), "Afraid" is one of Nikki's greatest lyrics of a woman so terrified to live life that's she's sheltering herself from the world and walking through it blindly. "Bitter Pill" gives the listener a kick in the ass as it opened 1998's "Greatest Hits" album and lucky for the fans of "Red, White and Crue", it's here along with that sets other new tune, "Enslaved". As the band was gaining momentum playing sold out theaters across the land, Tommy left. The band carried on and made a underrated masterpiece in "New Tattoo". For those seeking a great rock 'n roll album to crank while the wind blows through your hair on a summer day, I urge you to seek out "New Tattoo" For the casual fan; they are treated to the guitarlicious "Hell On High Heels" and melodious title track on this new compilation.
"Red, White and Crue" has plenty of extras on it to make even a die-hard Motley fan salivate. For the first time, all of the prime and essential Motley is designated to one package. It even includes their original first single handed out at club gigs, "Toast of the Town"; classic Motley, one of their best tunes in their near quarter century career, let's hope we see it live on tour. "Too Young To Fall In Love" is a remix of the track taken from a out of print Japan EP, the staggering "Black Widow" (previously only available on last year's box set), different mixes of both Corabi tracks, "Afraid" and "New Tattoo" -these last two are unavailable unless you search eBay. There's even two tunes from their 1994 EP, "Quaternary", which showcased a solo track from each of the members. Tommy's Nine Inch Nail influenced "Planet Boom" and Mick's bluesy "Bittersuite" give this compilation a extra-added edge so often missing on other hits sets. The diversity of the music and growth demonstrated on "Red, White and Crue" is extraordinary, showcasing Motley as a band that continued to evolve all the way through the new millennium.
I always love new songs on compilation albums. Usually an artist grabs two or three of the best songs they have laying around and crank them out with the passion and vigor not always found on an album. I'm sad to say this is not the case with these three new tracks. Two of the best songs Motley has recorded since 1991 have been "Bitter Pill" and "Primal Scream", which both debuted on compilation albums. None of the new tracks on "Red, White and Crue" can touch those songs, not even with Tommy Lee's appendage. "If I Die Tomorrow" is a good song, nothing more and definitely not essential. "Sick Love Song" is unextraordinary in every way and should have been regulated to b-side status and surprisingly; their cover of the Rolling Stones "Street Fighting Man" is insipid and falls flat. The biggest issue with the new songs is lack on insight from three quarters of Motley. Only Nikki Sixx gets songwriting credits on the new songs and Tommy does not even appear on "Street Fighting Man". What could have been a golden opportunity to show the world they can still rock with the best of them simply is an exercise in commerce. The most disappointing aspect is that every Motley release has moments that shine. While "Red, White and Crue" shines fiercely, the new songs end it on a uninspiring note.
Is this Motley reunion for real or a last chance shot at making some big dough for their retirement packages? It's a good and valid question, but one I won't be able to decipher until I see them live. To put perspective on how badly this tour was needed, the last time Vince, Tommy and Nikki played Chicago, they were all solo or with other bands. Vince's show had about 700 people at it, Nikki's about 900 and Tommy's was less than 400. Do the math and it adds up to less than 2,000 people. First day ticket sales for their reunion tour were about five to ten times that number. Whoever said there's no "I" in team hit it on the head. As great as their individual talents may be, Tommy, Mick, Nikki and Vince's greatness lies within the Motley Crue brotherhood. Whether they are happy about that or not, their chemistry is undeniable and should never be ignored, especially by each other.
They are still a band of brothers despite what any of them say...let's hope this new tour exceeds our imaginations. Even though they have disillusioned me many times, I'm in their corner rooting for them hoping that they really can influence another generation of rockers. I guess we'll have to wait and see if their screams are still primal.
Biography and CD review by