Mötley Crüe, Saints of Los Angeles
Mötley Crüe is a brand, like Apple or Harley Davidson. Like the biggest bands in the last fifty years, Mötley Crüe exists in our minds as part of a universal consciousness, a shared history. If you are between the ages of thirty and maybe forty-five, you were coming of age smack in the middle of the ’80s hair metal explosion in LA. You can roughly map this explosion starting with Twisted Sister (New York, natch) and the earthquake that was Quiet Riot, watch Mötley Crüe lead the rise of the era through the mid- to late-’80s, mortally wound it with the ascension of Guns ‘N Roses for that insane run between 1988 and 1993, and finally kill it off with a tiny album by an unknown of band from the southern backwaters of Seattle. Many of these bands still exist in workable form today; if you’d headed down to the four-day festival “Rock the Bayou” this past August, you would have seen the LA metal scene in all of its daft glory. All except the Crüe.
If pressed, I don’t think I could name a better hair metal band from that era, all things considered. The Crüe sold upwards of 80 million albums worldwide, had a number one album, toured everywhere, and unleashed more insanity than there is room for in the Halls of the Hair Metal Hall Of Fame. I still remember seeing a Time (or was it Newsweek?) on the newsstands with them on the cover in 1985 or thereabouts, with the headline, “Is this band worth $40 million?” At the time, it was an outlandish amount of money to pay a rock band. Now, it just about covers the budget for Chinese Democracy.
Why? Why has Mötley Crüe survived intact, successful and, er, healthy? I can’t definitively say. It seems to be equal parts music, mayhem, and media, and Mötley Crüe has leveraged each of these facets perfectly, either by releasing three bona-fide classics (Theater of Pain, Girls, Girls, Girls, and Dr. Feelgood) and drinking, drugging, and killing through nearly two decades, or by constantly appearing in solo projects or on reality TV. No other band has controlled their image nearly as well or worked so hard to make sure that there were no cracks in the outer wall of their created world, even when all hell was breaking loose inside.
Musically, the band is in pretty good form. Mick Mars stretches out more sonically than I’ve heard before. Believe it or not, Mars was a real-live guitar god in the ’80s, scoring covers of Guitar Player with regularity, and it shows here — interesting wah parts, a large palette of amp sounds (from thin and buzzy to full Mesa roar), and very inspired playing, especially considering it’s coming from someone who can barely stand up by himself. Tommy Lee’s drums sound great, especially his classic bass drum thump. Lee has always been much more solid musically than the rest of the band and is probably the main appeal for musicians.
Nikki Sixx is as solid as ever and pretty much wrote the entire album. Vice Neil’s voice you either love or hate, though, and it hasn’t stood up well through the years. He’s always been pretty nasally, but he sounds pretty weak here, and I think I hear auto-tune. But Neil was always more of a showman than a singer; even Sixx has admitted that he never really liked Neil’s voice, especially in the beginning. But so what? It’s instantly recognizable. Sonically, the album is crushed in mastering, as usual. You can’t really even EQ it, as tweaking the bass or lower mids immediately introduces distortion. Sign o’ the times, I guess.
While not mind-blowing, the songs are pretty solid. “Saints of Los Angeles (SOLA)” is classic anthemic Crüe, pinching the main riff from “Wild Side” off the mega-classic Girls, Girls, Girls. “SOLA” reads like a historical biography, a clear pronouncement that the Crüe stands tall over the remnants of the LA metal scene and the pretenders at their feet. “Welcome To The Machine” is the standard middle fingers to the industry that made them rich but extracted so much flesh. “Goin’ Out Swingin'” and “White Trash Circus” paint the Crüe as the embodiment of their 25 years of mayhem, bruises and all. “Just Another Psycho” starts of vanilla, but (seriously) has a really cool funk section in the middle (well, “funk” by Mötley Crüe standards). “Chicks = Trouble,” “This Ain’t A Love Song,” and “Down At The Whisky” are all typical tongue-in-cheek misogyny, but this is the most blatant they’ve been about it.
So, is Mötley Crüe really a band anymore? Each member has his own, separate Website listed on the liner notes. There were years they didn’t speak to each other. Hell, they had John Corabi as a singer for an album and Randy Castillo on drums for a tour, and Lee and Mars hardly played on their last compilation, Red, White & Crüe. So I don’t blame you for being cynical about this album. Overall, SOLA is thirteen pretty good new songs, but not one matches the high-water marks of the past. This album isn’t about respect, though, or topping their past, or showing that they still have “it,” or silencing critics. Oh, it sounds great, and the requisite sleaze is dripping from the lyrics (“Animal In Me” as a ballad? just listen to the first verse…), but while the “fuck you” attitude is still here, the “fuck it” attitude is gone. We get four anti-heroes telling us their early story in the only way the they know how. It isn’t nostalgia, and it isn’t apologetic, but the songs here carry a kernel of time that those of us who lived it secretly long for, even if we would never admit it.