[9 September 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There’s something reassuring about how Lemmy Kilmister and Motörhead just keep soldiering on. They’re one of the most predictable bands in rock ‘n’ roll history, but also one of the most reliable, still capable of putting together enjoyable albums, and always delivering one of the most punishing live shows you will ever witness.
The lion’s share of the credit, of course, goes to Lemmy, who lives the lifestyle like nobody else, a Jack and Coke always present along with a comely lady or two. But more importantly, despite that unmistakable Motörhead shtick, the mutton-chopped growler projects such a level of authority live and on record that it’s absolutely impossible not to buy into whatever he’s saying. No question, the man does get lazy in the songwriting department, and his weaker lyrics would sound comical coming from another singer, but when you hear that wizened, gravely voice recite those words, it might as well be gospel. He speaks, and we listen.
For all the deserved attention Lemmy receives time and again, though, what is often lost in the shuffle is just how good a band Motörhead has become, especially over the last dozen years. Guitarist Phil Campbell has been Lemmy’s right-hand man for 24 years now, far eclipsing the output of the legendary “Fast” Eddie Clark. Drummer Mikkey Dee has been behind the kit for 16 years, the contributions of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor a distant memory. Overall, the musicians have been a three-piece unit since 1996, and the rapport they’ve developed has only strengthened with each passing year. In fact, Motörhead now find themselves on a creative roll that’s the envy of any younger band. 2004’s raucous Inferno was their most inspired effort in years, 2006’s very satisfying Kiss of Death was more exuberant in tone, and now Motörizer, the band’s 20th studio album overall, has the trio continuing to sound as tight, and especially loud, as ever.
It’s that classic Motörhead chug that always draws us in, Lemmy’s bass—distorted to a ridiculous level and played like a rhythm guitar—leading the charge, but Campbell’s contributions, especially on this record, cannot be underestimated. Barnstorming opening track “Runaround Man” is the kind of full-throttle attack we expect, but underneath it all is a tremendous boogie-woogie feel in Campbell’s heavy tone, his solos echoing Chuck Berry. A simple three-note melody, picked out simply, echoing Johnny Ramone, underscores “Teach You How to Sing the Blues”, while “One Short Life” is a dense, sludgy blues jam reminiscent of the band’s great b-side “Just ‘Cos You Got the Power”, with Campbell’s understated riffs and fills perfectly complementing Lemmy’s roaring bass. “Time Is Right” is highlighted by Campbell’s open-chord riff, which will remind some of Brian Robertson’s guitar work on 1983’s massively underrated Another Perfect Day, while he and Lemmy both infuse “The Thousand Names of God” with a swagger that no band can ever match.
Still, it’s Lemmy’s inimitable presence that takes much of Motörizer over the top. His a cappella delivery of the first lines of the irresistible “English Rose” is hard rock comfort food, timeless, ageless. And horny as all get-out, bless him. His charisma carries the entire track, the upbeat, slyly melodic chorus hearkening back to the days of 1987’s Rock and Roll. Lemmy’s obsession with war themes rises to the surface on a handful of tracks, highlighted by the thunderous battle tune “When the Eagle Screams” and the decidedly somber, almost stately “Heroes”. However, it’s when he’s singing about the simple joys of playing rock ‘n’ roll that Lemmy truly shines, and the relentlessly paced “Rock Out” does just that. Anchored by a taut backbeat provided by Dee, Lemmy lets loose, his sentiment straightforward (“Here comes the bass, thunder in your guts”), but absolutely convincing. Nobody alive can write an inane line like “Rock out with your cock out / Impress your lady friends” and get away with it like Lemmy can. Any other idiot singer would be laughed off the stage, but coming from Lemmy, we raise our fists and shout along.
It’s that intangible quality that Lemmy brings to every single Motörhead record, something the superb Motörizer has, ‘scuse the pun, in spades.