Back in 1982, Circus magazine ran a small news item on an up-and-coming band called Mötley Crüe, including a photo with the simple caption: “Looks like Kiss, sounds like Van Halen”. As dismissive as that may seem, the folks at Circus obviously had no problem with a bit of backpedaling, because within less than two years those same up-and-comers were gracing the magazine’s cover on the merits of their hit second LP Shout at the Devil. And the rest, as they say, is history—or at least an episode of Behind the Music.
Although it’s difficult to take Mötley Crüe even close to seriously these days, there was a time when they were a respectable rock-n-roll band, tabloid antics notwithstanding. Yes, in the hazy past of a band whose members are now better known for ventures into amateur pornography and winning reality TV talent shows reside a few records that salvage the Crüe’s debatable legend. Of this elite handful, the band’s first release Too Fast for Love—recently remastered with several bonus tracks and multimedia content—is not only the best of the lot, but it’s also the most underrated of the group’s entire career.
Making up for what it lacked in musicianship with pure charisma and a raw pop sensibility, the Crüe immediately established itself as a natural master of the rock cliché with this first album. From the false stops that conclude “Live Wire” and drums-only chorus breakdown in “Public Enemy #1” to the soft-loud dynamics employed on the record’s three (!) ballads, the band plays by the book with such innocent conviction that it almost distracts from the inanity of it all. Add to this a New York Dolls-goes-S&M image, and the complete package shows Circus to be only half-correct in its assessment—the band certainly looked like Kiss in all of its kabuki pancake glory, but they sounded a hell of a lot more like Cheap Trick or Mott the Hoople than Van Halen.
But they had a sound—one that was fairly unique in 1982 at that, a debt the Crüe largely owes to esteemed producer Roy Thomas Baker (best known at that time for his work with Queen and the Cars), who was called in to remix Too Fast for Love after Elektra signed the band (apparently the original version released on the band’s own Leathur Records wasn’t on par with major-label sonic standards). Under the influence of Baker’s polish, the tuned-down guitars still growl beneath Vince Neil’s banshee wail to the point of glorious excess—and without the video for “Live Wire” (included on this reissue’s CD-ROM component) to betray it, the music doesn’t even sound all that dated; if only the dozens of hair metal bands that ascended in the Crüe’s wake could say the same.
Beyond that, though, Too Fast for Love is a more pivotal record in the grand scheme of heavy metal than might be immediately clear. At the time of its release, it was somewhat of an anomaly in a milieu that was increasingly dominated by displays of instrumental prowess—Tommy Lee was the only Crüe member with any real chops (a gift that would run horribly amok in a succession of garish drum solos on tour), yet the band’s attitude and songcraft transcended the requirements of virtuosity to carve out a new niche for the music. From here on out, there were two kinds of heavy metal for the remainder of the decade.
Unfortunately for Neil, Lee, Nikki Sixx, and Mick Mars, stardom was an uphill battle in the truest sense of the term; Neil’s barely-beaten vehicular homicide rap and Sixx’s well-publicized heroin overdose are just two of the lowlights of the band’s post-Shout at the Devil descent into sleaze paradise. But at the beginning of that self-described Decade of Decadence, Mötley Crüe was just another club band trying to make the best of whatever Sunset Strip gigs it could come by—and Too Fast for Love captures those traits on wax with impressive clarity, portraying the band at a level of primitive hunger that it’d spend the rest of its career trying to recreate without success.
// Notes from the Road
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