[14 August 2006]
In hindsight, the mid-1980s were a transitional period for Lemmy and Motorhead that probably established them as legends. While they had already made their definitive recordings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it’s safe to say that without a few more worthy outings, they would never have ascended to elder-statesmen status.
And for a while, it looked as though they wouldn’t. The band followed a disappointing finale by the classic Lemmy-Phil Taylor-Fast Eddie Clark lineup, Iron Fist, with 1983’s Another Perfect Day, a worthy but uneven recording that in some ways gave proof to those who doubted Clark could be replaced. But replace him they did, and after four killer new cuts on 1984’s No Remorse anthology and the barnstorming comeback of 1986’s Orgasmatron, it was clear that Motorhead stood with the greats. These three expanded double-CD reissues trace the period when Lemmy and Company solidified their place in history.
It’s not that Another Perfect Day is a bad album; it’s simply one that doesn’t sound much like Motorhead. Though a veteran of heavy rock with Thin Lizzy and Wild Horses, then-new guitarist Brian Robertson was also a classically trained, highly stylized player who lacked the abandon and spontaneity of Clark. Combine that with slower tempos, and you have a revamped Motorhead sound that worked on “Shine”, “Stone Dead Forever”, “Back at the Funny Farm”, and the slow-grinding “One Track Mind”, but was less successful on other tracks. While it’s certainly better than 95 percent of rock releases in 1983, it’s not up to Motorhead’s usual standards.
Even if the better moments on Another Perfect Day convince you that the pairing with Robertson could work, the 10 June 1983, concert comprising disc two may be all the evidence needed to the contrary. Similar to the album, it’s not a bad performance, but it’s low on energy and long (77 minutes) on time. Worst of all, it’s composed mostly of songs from the band’s lesser albums, Another Perfect Day and Iron Fist. A Motorhead show without “Ace of Spades”, “Overkill” and “Bomber”? No wonder this lineup only lasted a year.
The next lineup, on the other hand, was a menace live, as indicated by the 13 October 1984, performance from a Kerrang showcase included on the Orgasmatron bonus disc. Subtract Taylor and Robertson, add Pete Gill on drums and the one-two punch of Wurzel and Phil Campbell on guitars, and you have a quartet that put Motorhead back in contention. Romping through classics like “Stay Clean” and “Metropolis”, the new classic “Killed by Death” (just recorded for No Remorse), plus “Nothing Up My Sleeve” from the forthcoming album, it was as if the band was an old Western gunfighter who’d been left for dead—only to reemerge with guns blazing for all who doubted his mettle.
Armed with Motorhead’s best set of songs in six years, Orgasmatron delivered on the promise of such live appearances and even updated the band’s sound on the title track and “Deaf Forever” to keep pace with the then-burgeoning thrash metal movement it had helped create. Elsewhere, it’s recognizably Motorhead, with “Ain’t My Crime” snarling slowly and “The Claw” (“Overkill”-styled intro and all) and “Mean Machine” blitzing at breakneck pace.
As underscored by the 16 August 1986, live show at Monsters of Rock, Castle Donington, included on the bonus disc of the Rock ‘n’ Roll reissue, the finest Orgasmatron tracks stood up well alongside Motorhead classics. Though similar to the 1984 set list, the 13-song show is another great one, with the band romping through its repertoire slightly faster than the originals and joining the Who, Deep Purple, and James Brown as one of the few who can make a live album that loses nothing in translation. Bonus: finally, a live version of “Iron Fist”—and a killer one at that. Amazing that this is the first commercial release of this show.
Rock ‘n’ Roll itself not only represented the return of Taylor to the drum throne, but also—in perhaps a nod to the title—a return of the early Motorhead sound. Released in August 1987, it also came just in time to ride the peak of metal’s popularity in the 1980s, charting higher than any previous Motorhead record in the States (at #150) and garnering exposure on both MTV (which made The Headbangers’ Ball a weekly show around that time) and the long-forgotten 24-hour satellite metal station, Z-Rock. Unfortunately, the song that got promoted, “Eat the Rich”, is among the lesser tracks on an album that isn’t among the band’s finest. While it’s slightly more consistent than Another Perfect Day, tracks like “Dogs” and the uncharacteristically melodic “All for You” are mediocre, and the album lacks any spearhead track to push it over the edge.
That said, “Boogeyman” and “Stone Deaf in the USA” are among a few good rockers, and in spite of its flaws, Rock ‘n’ Roll sounds more like a band on an off day than one on the decline (a theory borne out by the next studio album, 1991’s classic 1916). And again, the live set on disc two is not to be missed (hence the rating).