[14 December 2003]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Mötley Crüe rank as one of the worst bands in rock ‘n’ roll history to ever put out a classic album. As their highly entertaining autobiography proves, the band had the sex and the drugs thing down perfectly; in their heyday, few managed to even come close to matching the levels of depravity Crüe had sunk to. However, they never really got the rock ‘n’ roll part going as much. Musical growth always seemed to take a backseat to the lifestyle (the book dwells very minimally on their actual music, which speaks volumes), and they never came off as being exceptionally talented. Aside from drummer Tommy Lee, who will go down in history as one of hard rock’s greatest drummers, the rest of Mötley Crüe were only average musicians. Singer Vince Neil’s flamboyant Robin Zander-meets-David Lee Roth style always masked the fact that his voice wasn’t overly great to begin with, bassist Nikki Sixx’s playing, while solid, showed very little range, and guitarist Mick Mars definitely had the chops, but never really did anything new or exciting. Still, the few times when these four guys got their minds into the music, some very good music came out of it, and their second album, Shout at the Devil, remains to this day Mötley Crüe’s finest hour.
The band’s first album, 1981’s Too Fast For Love was a strange debut, boasting a couple of good songs (“Livewire”, “Piece of Your Action”), and a whole lot of weak filler. It did land them a recording deal with Elektra Records, though, and Sixx, the band’s leader, impresario, and chief songwriter, knew that they were on the verge of something huge. Released in the fall of 1983, Shout at the Devil marked a massive improvement in the songwriting, was as cocky as any hard rock album that came out in the ‘80s, and above all else, was heavier than all get-out. Teenaged kids would pick up the vinyl LP, with the embossed pentagram on the black cover and open the gatefold to see four huge portraits of the scariest looking dudes they’d ever seen. They looked like rejects from The Road Warrior (Sixx later said that their image was inspired by Mad Max and Escape From New York), with their leather, spikes, makeup, and lest we forget, the codpieces.
Although the Crüe get lumped in with all the other L.A. “hair bands” from the same decade, people often forget how dark, how sleazy, how menacing Shout at the Devil really is. It gets off to an auspiciously Spinal Tap-like start on the intro “In the Beginning”, with its gloriously bombastic opening narration, “In the beginning, good always overpowered the evils of all man’s sins . . . But in time the nations grew weak and our cities fell to slums while evil stood strong. In the dusts of hell lurked the blackest of hates, for he whom they feared awaited them . . .” If the music that followed didn’t kick your ass from here to next week, then such ridiculousness would be a recipe for disaster, but when you hear Mars’s opening riffs on the title track, you know these boys are for real. Over a pounding rhythm section ably provided by Sixx and Lee, Neil screams, “He’ll be the love in your eyes / He’ll be the blood between your thighs / And then have you cry for more,” before adding what winds up being an unexpectedly positive message: “But in the seasons of wither / We’ll stand and deliver / Be strong and laugh and / Shout at the devil.”
The rest of the album does not let up one iota. “Looks That Kill”, arguably the band’s greatest single, boasts a fabulous, now classic riff by Mars, and an inspired vocal performance by Neil (and who could ever, ever forget that video, which is included on the enhanced CD-ROM). The ferocious “Bastard” (written about the band’s former manager Alan Coffman) and the uptempo “Red Hot” both showcase Lee’s frantic drumming skill, while the ultra-heavy, churning cover of the Beatles’ White Album classic “Helter Skelter” remains one of the best Beatles covers that any hard rock band has dared to do. “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid”, written by Sixx after a rather memorable evening at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, seethes with rage, as Neil sneers, “Now I’m supercharged / Might just explode in your face / I’m black, I’m black, I’m black / And I’m primed for hate.” On the other side of the coin is the lecherous “Ten Seconds to Love” a song that even their 1987 hit “Girls, Girls, Girls” can’t equal for sleaze content (“Let’s inject it / Photograph it / Down to the subway / Let the other boys have it”).
Two songs on Shout at the Devil often get lost among the pile of more popular Crue songs, but on their own, they rank as two of the band’s best. “Too Young to Fall in Love” was a terrific single, kicked off by Lee’s fabulous drum intro that seemed to mimic a menacing dude in platform boots sauntering down a dark street. Then comes Mars and his brutally heavy staccato riffs, Neil’s menacing vocals (“Now I’m killing you / Watch your face turning blue”), and a surprisingly melodic chorus. “Danger”, which closes the album, is a great glam metal tune, similar to bands like Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks, as Sixx’s introspective lyrics paint a rough-edged portrait of the seamier side of L.A., and as it concludes with Neil repeating the line, “This is Hollywood”, it sounds like a sinister foreshadowing of the dark days that lay ahead for the band.
Five bonus tracks are included in this new edition of Shout at the Devil, but they serve as nothing more than an interesting look at the band in rehearsal. Aside from a solid demo of “Looks That Kill”, the performances are weak, and ultimately show what a great job producer Tom Werman did on the finished product. Neil’s attempt at a demonic voice at the end of the demo version of “Shout at the Devil” is unintentionally hilarious, as he winds up sounding like Venom’s singer Cronos on helium. Another gripe is the absence of the classic pentagram artwork from the original LP, which suited the album perfectly.
Unfortunately, for the rest of their career, Mötley Crüe never came close to matching the greatness of Shout at the Devil. Their next two albums were recorded in a haze of drugs and alcohol, the more sober Dr. Feelgood was overproduced and overrated, and in the last 10 years, the band has struggled to find its indentity. The album’s famous credits say all that need to be said about the making of this album: “This album was recorded on Foster’s lager, Budweiser, Bombay Gin, lots of Jack Daniels, Kahlua and Brandy, Quackers and Krell, and Wild Women!” That hard life might have taken its toll on the band members as the ‘80s and ‘90s went by, but with a timeless L.A. metal classic like this record, it almost makes living such a destructive life seem totally worth it.