Thursday, November 15, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #218 - Mötley Crüe - Motley Crue (Elektra, 1994)

I grew up in the 1980s, the decade of excess, and many of my tastes (from music and films to food and clothing) were shaped during that decade. It’s no surprise then that, given its ubiquity on radio and MTV, that I developed a serious love for heavy metal and hard rock. I not only decided that I wanted to play music like this, I also wanted to live the hard-partying lifestyle that my musical heroes lived. That’s neither here nor there. And while many people grow out of the music they loved as a kid, “hair metal,” for lack of a better term, has never stopped meaning a lot to me. And no artist exemplified the hedonism of the ‘80s better than my favorite band at the time, Mötley Crüe.
Cut to the 1990s: a decidedly tough time for many formerly successful metal and hard rock bands. While some completely faded away, others tried rather misguidedly (looking at you, Metallica) to glom onto the rising trend of “grunge” and “alternative” music. Still others, like Winger and Cinderella, put out some of the best, most focused records of their career in the ‘90s and they sadly went almost completely unnoticed. The Crüe fell into this latter category with the release of their self-titled album in 1994. But first, a bit of history.
In 1991, The Crüe released their first official career retrospective, Decade of Decadence ’81-’91 and with it, three new songs. Of those three songs, the first single was called “Primal Scream” and it was possibly the heaviest and best written song they’d ever recorded up to that point. It was a good time to be a Crüe fan and, naturally, I was excited to see if they would continue in this direction for the next proper album. The band enlisted engineer Bob Rock, who had worked with The Crüe on the hugely successful 1989 album Dr. Feelgood and set to work on its follow up. During these sessions, the band had a rather public falling-out with frontman Vince Neil which resulted in his being fired from the band. Or he quit. Neither camp can exactly remember this rather large detail correctly - and who really gives a shit now? But this left the Crüe in the rather unenviable position of replacing the widely adored voice and face of the band for the past 12 years.
Enter John Corabi, vocalist for the fellow L.A. band The Scream, of whom bassist and chief Crüe songwriter Nikki Sixx was a huge fan. Corabi brought a fresh new element to the band with his gravelly, Rod Stewart-esque voice and his rhythm guitar capabilities. This was in stark contrast to Vince Neil’s high-pitched whine and limited musical ability. Lead guitarist Mick Mars said at the time that he appreciated being able to work with a second guitarist for a change as it allowed him more room to experiment with his riffs and solos rather than “having to focus on just keeping the rhythm.” Corabi also was a competent lyricist, bringing a few of his own songs to the sessions with lyrics tackling much darker and more thoughtful topics than those to which Sixx was accustomed. “Droppin’ Like Flies,” for example, deals with environmental issues of the day and “Uncle Jack” is a scathing track about Corabi’s own uncle, a convicted child molester. The material was such a drastic departure that they even dropped the trademark umlauts from their name for the first and last time ever.
Sonically, Motley Crue (or MC94 as some fans call it) is even bigger and grittier than Metallica’s “Black Album,” making it a career defining moment for Bob Rock as well. Tommy Lee’s drumming on this album is better and heavier than it’s ever been, with pummeling beats and interesting, complicated fills, particularly on the album’s lead single “Hooligan’s Holiday.” The album still boasts the rock swagger that the Crüe are known for, like in the glam rocker “Poison Apples,” but for the most part it’s almost completely unrecognizable as a Crüe product. Songs like “Smoke the Sky” or “Hammered” would be at home on a Bay Area thrash or speed metal album, and Mars ventures into Jimmy Page territory with his lead riff on the killer “Welcome to the Numb,” my personal favorite track on the album.
           The album sold about as well as could be expected. Fans and critics alike were not ready to embrace such a drastic change from the band’s sound and, in particular, Corabi himself. That goes for myself too, by the way. I had nothing against Corabi personally. I even owned the Scream album. But I was very pro-Vince at the time and refused to buy MC94 for the longest time (even though I did secretly think “Hooligan’s Holiday” was a killer song when I first saw the video on MTV). Although the record did make it to number seven on the Billboard charts, the sales rapidly declined to the point that the ensuing world tour had to be re-booked from large arena venues to small clubs and theaters. Eventually, the tour was cancelled altogether. A far cry from the band’s ‘80s heyday.
J. Eagle - a 9-year old Crue fan
            Ultimately, MC94 is the only album that the band would make with John Corabi, as he was fired shortly after its release to allow Vince Neil to return to the fold. On the one hand, as a fan of the band’s classic material, this made me happy. On the other hand, the eventual “reunion album” that they put out in 1997, Generation Swine, is without a doubt the biggest piece of shit they’ve ever released, so it was a bittersweet reunion to say the least. In retrospect, I wish I would have given the album more of a chance but now I’m taking this opportunity to turn others onto this incredibly underappreciated gem.

                                                                              -         Jonathan Eagle

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