Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Formed four years before fellow Los Angeles kings of scuzz Guns n’ Roses, the four-man wrecking ball we all know and love as Motley Crüe emerged from the grime and glittered streets of the City of Angels in 1981 and the world hasn’t been quite the same since.
Providing a bit of welcome glam to a hard rock world filled with the meat and potato stylings of the NWOBHM bands, the quartet were full of sex, drugs and booze. Whilst their notoriety was in its ascent and the later years where multiple issues almost derailed their train several times, this new box set is a good dip into the era that built the legend, the first five albums presented here a guidebook to how to play big riffs, get wasted and become global sensations.
For all the people who’ve seen or read ‘The Dirt’ but never got more than a greatest hits package, this set pretty much provided the template for a million wannabe pretenders to the throne but, no amount of hairspray, tight leather trousers and faux wasted attitude could match Crüe at their height.
As a lot of other acts have done, this halcyon period for the band has been mined well and truly, the later, patchier output eschewed in favour of these five slices of big riffs and wild abandon. As with all these things, the quartet’s self-destructive attitude eventually caught up with them, the wheels well and truly falling off their wagon but the best thing to do would be to grab this selection, crank them up and let the sunshine and good times pour from the speakers.
Released in 1981, ‘Too Fast For Love’ was a debut that managed to capture some of the filth and fury of the band live, it’s rough-edged feel and developing song writing making a splash but not setting he whole world on fire just yet.
With its production by the band themselves lacking the finesse of later albums, it still screamed with the cocky “look at me!” attitude that typified their approach and their self-belief is obvious in every groove. There may have been better bands in L.A. at the time, but no-one caught that spirit of Metal meets Glam meets Punk more than them and frenetic opener ‘Live Wire’ is the sound of a band kicking down doors.
With Mick Mars urgent riffing, Vince Neil’s distinctive whine and the frantic rhythm section of Tommy Lee’s drums and the bass of Nikki Sixx, Crüe had arrived on the scene, engines revved and foot to the floor but with the road map not quite worked out yet.
Tracks like ‘Merry-Go-Round’, ‘On with the Show’ and the title songs still have the power to excite and generally this debut was received well by all but the sniffiest of critics and stands as a perfect picture as to where the soon to be arena filling demolition crew stood at the nascent moment.
With extra time to prepare for their sophomore, following the band being kicked off KISS’s ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour, the quartet were able to work further on the new material prior to heading into the studio. All this paid off when ‘Shout at the Devil’ provided the band with the breakthrough they had hoped, selling by the bucketload and turning heads all over the globe. In usual Crüe style, the recording itself wasn’t without its issues, Sixx being injured in a serious crash after drunkenly stealing a friend’s Porsche and this leading to an addiction to heroin. Nevertheless, with its striking cover that stirred up the conservative Christian section of society, the album was rammed full of barnstormer rockers such as ‘Looks That Kill’ and ‘Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid’.
With the throwaway inclusion of a cover of The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ seemingly to bulk it out, ‘Shout at the Devil’ came in at a taught thirty-five minutes and hit like a freight train. A masterclass in heavy, dirty rock ‘n’ roll sprinkled with glitter and studs, the four wildmen had well and truly arrived.
Album number three carried a huge weight of expectation and fortunately ‘Theatre of Pain’ didn’t disappoint. With their knowingly grimy cover of Brownsville Station’s ‘Smoking in the Boys Room’ as the lead single and classic Crüe ballad ‘Home Sweet Home’ amongst the smorgasbord of delights on offer, this proved that the quartet were going in the right direction and building on all that had come before. Once again, things hadn’t been smooth getting there, the album dedicated to the memory of Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley, tour support Hanoi Rocks drummer killed in a car accident when an intoxicated Neil was driving the two on a run to get more beer and his car hit another.
Alongside this, Sixx was gripped even harder by his heroin addiction but somehow (or possibly because of) through all this terrible tragedy and misadventure, the album absolutely crackles with fire and explosive power.
With its irresistible title track ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’, their fourth outing solidified the party loving arena rockers reputation as much more than the priapically obsessed wastrels who were just in it for the sex and drugs of rock ‘n’ roll. Heading more into a bluesier territory, the writing had subtly changed and matured but still retaining the visceral charm that had become their trademark. Dark ballad ‘You’re All I Need’ mixed cyanide with champagne and ‘Wild Side’ and ‘Bad Boy Boogie’ showed that the band hadn’t lost their edge when it came to brawling slabs of hard rock and metal.
The last album in the set, ‘Dr Feelgood’ saw the band hit new heights, ironically whilst trying to clean up their act. The hard work and attitude paid dividends though as the release hit Number One in the Billboard charts, a dream come true and something that their strongest set to date deserved.
The whole was an out and out adrenaline rush from the opening notes onwards and, again, the title track was due to become an instant classic for the band, matched only by the high-octane thrill of ‘Kickstart My Heart’.
This was to be the last studio album with Neil who was fired shortly after the following compilation album ‘Decade of Decadence 81 – 91’ was released, the singer welcomed back into the fold some six years later for ‘Generation Swine’.
Irrespective of the comings and goings, fights and rollercoaster events that followed, this set sees Motley Crüe at their most edgy and exciting best and as such is a vital purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in those mayhem filled and world changing times.
As Summer stadium dates with Def Leppard get ever nearer, the timing is perfect to reacquaint yourself with one of the biggest bands to ever come out of the early 80’s music scene. Strap yourself into the rocket and be prepared for a riot.