Anthrax's Scott Ian recruits ringers to revive obscure '90s and '00s hard rock band Mother Superior. The resulting album inadvertently makes the case for why Mother Superior was obscure in the first place.
Mother Superior was a band that toiled in relative obscurity on the Los Angeles club scene from the late ‘90s through the late ‘00s. Although they boasted famous fans including Henry Rollins (who recruited the trio to back him on his 2000 Rollins Band record Get Some Go Again) and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer (who produced two of the band’s ‘00s albums), the group never really found much of an audience. But one of those famous fans, Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, had the power and influence to revive Mother Superior for his 50th birthday party. He contacted the band’s singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Wilson and recruited drummer Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Armored Saint) and bassist John Tempesta (White Zombie) to join him as a new band to play a set of Mother Superior songs at the party. The gig went so well that the band reunited in the studio shortly thereafter to record the set for posterity.
Now dubbed Motor Sister after the song of the same name, Ride is the resulting record. And it sounds really good. This is clearly a band of veteran players having a good time banging out songs that they really enjoy, and producer Jay Ruston makes sure that every instrument is crisp and clear. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the compliments end.
Listening to Jim Wilson’s songs, even as played by a group of enthusiastic ringers, one gets the sense that possibly the party line as espoused by Motor Sister’s members isn’t quite correct. Maybe it wasn’t that audiences slept on the band because the late ‘90s and early ‘00s were out of step with the group’s ‘70s hard rock sound. Maybe it was that, despite the fun throwback quality of the music, the band just wasn’t very good.
Because Ride certainly isn’t a very good album. The 12 songs presented here are Scott Ian’s personal picks for the best of the best of Mother Superior, and only four of them manage to stand out from the soup of generic, bloozy hard rock. Opener “A Hole” is a burst of energy, with a simple, catchy guitar riff, a powerful driving drumbeat, and a strong guitar solo smack dab in the middle of the song. It’s quick and to the point and very effective. Problems start to appear immediately after that, as “This Song Reminds Me of You” has a not-quite-as-good guitar riff buttressed by a throwaway vocal melody in the verses and a clichéd “pretty” (but not really) chorus where the band backs off to let Wilson’s vocals take the spotlight. But Wilson, while enthusiastic, isn’t a very strong singer. And he’s certainly not strong enough to keep this chorus from sounding cheesy.
It goes on like this for most of the record. Chunky guitar riffs over driving rock beats with unremarkable vocal melodies don’t make for inspiring listening. Ian occasionally uses his decades of heavy metal experiences to add some heft to a riff here or there, and Vera is certainly an energetic drummer (too energetic; his busy, busy fills are often too much of a good thing), and Ian’s wife Pearl Aday adds some very nice backing vocals throughout, but their enthusiasm doesn’t usually make up for Wilson’s lackluster songwriting.
“Fool Around” is an interesting case study, because it’s the one time on the album where the band changes it up but it doesn’t work out. Ostensibly a power ballad without the ballad, it’s a slow 6/8 love song that sacrifices none of the group’s crunch. But the chorus turns on a bad pun -- “Do you wanna fool around? / Do you really wanna fool around? / Do you really want this fool around?” -- that would work as a one-off joke. Since it’s the chorus, though, Wilson gets to repeat the same joke at least four times in the song, which becomes tiresome immediately.
The two remaining instances where the band changes their formula are much more effective. “Head Hanging Low” is anchored by a buzzing guitar riff with a Southwestern flair, and its laid-back feel in the verses makes the song’s chugging pre-chorus and tom-dominated, cymbal and snare-free drums on the chorus much more effective. Album closer “Devil Wind” is probably the record’s true highlight, featuring an acoustic guitar riff backed by a driving bassline. It’s the only time the acoustic makes an appearance on the album, and it’s extremely effective sonically. It helps that Wilson avoids the cliché of dropping the acoustic as soon as the full band enters, keeping it going throughout the song. It only disappears during the recurring heavy breakdown, which is also sonically effective because it’s the one time on the record the band makes the transition from hard rock to heavy metal. “Devil Wind” nicely balances the acoustic and electric sounds and the result is a song that is much different from the mostly run of the mill hard rock that makes up the bulk of the album.
With these semi-famous names attached to the group, Motor Sister is poised to get more exposure than Mother Superior ever did (Rollins was past his peak as a mainstream musical force in 2000 and Wayne Kramer was more of a respected name than a star). But if Ride is an example of the best of what Mother Superior had to offer, I’m not sure the response to Motor Sister will actually be more positive than the ignorant, indifferent shrug that greeted Mother Superior at the time. A well-played, well-recorded album of not very good songs doesn’t actually make those songs any better.