[24 June 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Any hard rocking band that has been in existence for over two decades is sure to have an interesting, if not checkered past that is appropriate fodder for Behind the Music specials. Mötley Crüe is no different, as its 20-plus year career has been punctuated by platinum record sales, drug overdoses, brushes with the law, and a variety of other incidents that epitomize the stereotypical, and excessively decadent rock and roll lifestyle. What makes the Crüe unique in the annals of music lore is that the group’s career can be neatly classified into two separate periods, 1) the ‘80s, and 2) the ‘90s and beyond, both of which are polar opposites from the other.
The ‘80s found the Crüe coming into their own as a brash, raucous outfit grounded in glammed out visuals and primitive musical sleaze. Loved or hated, the Mötley ones set themselves apart from other hair/metal band poseurs of the moment by having more sheer balls than all of their counterparts combined. They lived life as close to the edge as possible, crashing and burning with frightening frequency. In the span of roughly seven years the band churned out several memorable (if not sophisticated) albums, successfully cementing its reputation as the preeminent group of musical thugs/kings of debauchery/hard rocking hellions of their generation.
Once the ‘90s arrived, Mötley Crüe was plagued by internal acrimony and strife, as well as beset by the grunge-induced backlash toward the overall genre of metal. Finding itself to be a band without a cause, Crüe became the embodiment of Spinal Tap with its personnel changes and generally sporadic recorded output. In spite of slumping badly, the group soldiered on into the new millennium looking to capture a bit of its past glory.
As part of the recent spate of reissues hitting the market, Hip-O Records has joined the fracas and chosen to re-release the entire Crüe catalog, with no seeming interest in culling the herd of sub-par material. The newly remastered versions of Mötley Crüe, Generation Swine, and New Tattoo evidence the fact that the ‘80s were the Crüe’s heyday, and the ‘90s were, well, not a great hair day.
The 1994 effort Mötley Crüe found the band in a distinctly transitional period. Singer Vince Neil had parted ways with his Mötley brethren, to be replaced by relatively unknown John Corabi, and the new album had to compete with musical outputs by “Seattle Sound” bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. The Corabi experiment turned out to be disastrous as Crüe fans rejected the album hands down; the ‘90s incarnation of the group looked different, sounded different and obviously was too great a deviation from what fans had grown to love in the previous decade. Having made a career out of raunch rock classics like Girls, Girls, Girls, the band was far out of its league in trying to incorporate grunge into its new aural image. The Crüe Mark II was certainly no Alice in Chains, and Mötley Crüe bears nothing of value musically. Simply stated, it is uninspired and misguided, barely worthy of record shop bargain bin status let alone remastered and re-released treatment.
By 1997, Mötley Crüe was once again whole as Neil returned, (more due to marketing and financial reasons than a genuine desire to be back in the band), and the group brought forth the much anticipated Generation Swine. While the album contained a moderately solid song in “Glitter”, it was for the most part a disappointing effort as it seemed that the boys were merely going through the motions. The re-released version includes five bonus tracks and an enhanced CD video, but these extras do little more than extend the mediocrity of the recording.
Enduring yet another line-up change, the Crüe faced the year 2000 with Randy Castillo behind the drum kit, (having taken over for the departed Tommy Lee). The Y2K release of New Tattoo marked a welcome return to the trademark Crüe sound and lyrical lewdness. The band is showcased in fine form from Mick Mars’ heavy shredding to Neil’s sneering vocals, and though Castillo lacked Lee’s drumming bombast, he and bassist Nikki Sixx successfully laid down a rumbling rhythm for much of the album. The songs “Treat Me Like the Dog I Am” and “Porno Star” demonstrate that revisiting the past is sometimes preferred as the CD resonated with a discernibly crude snottiness reminiscent of 1983’s vintage Shout at the Devil. It may not have been one of the band’s most stellar efforts, but it was still pretty damn good. The remastered version of New Tattoo also includes an enhanced CD video (of the song “Hell on High Heels”) in addition to a second disc consisting of six tracks recorded live in Salt Lake City. (Note: By the time this live show was recorded, Crüe had employed the services of Hole drummer Samantha Maloney, as an ailing Castillo was to soon tragically pass away from his illness.) The sound quality on the bonus disc is quite poor, although for Crüe aficionados anything hearkening back to the band’s glory days is certainly worthwhile.
The convoluted life and times of Mötley Crüe continue even as the mid-point of 2003 approaches. Vince Neil has appeared on reality TV, Tommy Lee has struggled with a solo career, Nikki Sixx makes and retracts inflammatory comments on a regular basis, and Mick Mars waits quietly in the shadows to see if the persistent rumors of a Mötley reunion come to fruition. Until something dramatic happens however, Crüe fans should feel free to indulge in the re-release of their heroes’ catalog material, enjoying much of the classic, while dispensing with most of the contemporary.