Unlike Dave Grohl, who completely reinvented himself for a generation of music fans unfamiliar with Nirvana, Tommy Lee will always be inexplicably linked to Motley Crüe. Not surprising, since Lee’s notoriety and subsequent creative endeavors are directly correlated to his tenure as 25% of rock’s most notorious bunch of bad boys, but it does present a challenge for someone engaging in a solo career. And meeting this challenge seems to be the purpose of Tommyland: The Ride, a fascinating collection of tracks as divergent from Lee’s Crüe roots as can be imagined.
Contrasted against his previous solo efforts, (1999’s Methods of Mayhem and 2002’s Never a Dull Moment), the former/present Crüe member appears to have found a comfort level in Tommyland: The Ride without getting lost in experimentation. Gone are the electronica-infused forays and angry white boy raps, replaced instead by genuinely heartfelt songs that show Lee to be a sensitive and introspective artist. Accompanied by a sizable roster of guest performers ranging from Dave Navarro to Nick Carter (!), Lee mixes acoustic-based ballads with a smattering of power chords to show that he’s hasn’t gone completely soft on us.
Thanks to the massive marketing campaign dedicated to the recently aired reality show “Tommy Goes to College”, the album’s opening track “Good Times” is already in heavy rotation. Nothing less than a three-minute dose of breezy pop, the song is catchy without being sappy, and is sure to grow on listeners with repeated plays. Similarly, the melancholy “Hello, Again” (and the accompanying acoustic version), “Make Believe” and “Say Goodbye” tread in waters far removed from Lee’s bombastic reputation, and approach the classification of “endearing”.
Sensitivity aside, Lee has not lost his ability to raise the roof through the use of heavy guitar riffs. “Tryin to be Me” and “Watch You Lose” satisfy those looking for a bit of sonic rage, while the drive of “Sister Mary” could easily make it the album’s next big single. And for the new generation of Tommy fans, “Tired” carries a decidedly contemporary feel (thanks in part to the shared vocals of Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden) reminiscent of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life”.
Critics will assuredly scoff at Lee’s latest solo effort as a self-indulgent exercise in musical mediocrity. Yeah? Scrüe them These are the same know-it-alls who said that the Crüe wouldn’t make it out of the ’80s. At the very least, the album is considerably better than the majority of major label dreck being foisted on the public. More importantly however, it is an honest reflection of Lee and his creative processes, and proof that he has much to offer when he chooses to indulge his head and heart equally.
So with Tommyland: The Ride now on his resume, will the introspective Tommy Lee grow old gracefully? Probably not, as he still has the capacity to get radical on stage with his Crüe compatriots. But at least we know that Tommy’s sensitive side is legitimate, and he ain’t afraid to show it