In 1989, when the world was ready and still waiting for the next big album from Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe stepped into the breach and released Dr. Feelgood, which allowed them to cash in once and for all on the resurgent popularity of hard rock. The cartoonish glam look with which they began had been eschewed completely by this point, with the band preferring the equally cartoonish tattooed and shirtless look, which one can find chronicled on the “Kickstart My Heart” video thoughtfully appended to this latest reissue.
It makes sense that the Crüe have chosen to include some of their videos with this latest wave of reissues, as these lifestyle videos portrayed the fantasy listeners presumably indulge much more successfully than their by-the-numbers music does. Still, one has to wonder at the pococurante inclusion of auto crash footage in the “Kickstart” video, considering singer Vince Neil’s unfortunate driving record. The sequences of cars rolling over down raceway tracks are meant to convey the reckless adrenaline listening to the Crüe is supposed to inspire (it’s more a couch-potato substitute for that kind of excitement) but one is left wondering at the toll this harmless, decadent fun can actually take. But the publicity-mongering antics of Axl Rose had made such brazenness de rigueur, and the Crüe were never ones to back away from using controversy as a marketing strategy.
They also weren’t shy about employing guest musicians in the meaningless role of back-up singer, though the success of the singles (the title track, the self-congratulatory “Kickstart My Heart”, “Same Ol’ Situation”, and the proto-Aerosmith ballad “Without You”, which, fortunately, is not the Nilsson song) didn’t necessitate further hyping of the appearances of Skid Row, Steven Tyler, Night Ranger’s Jack Blades, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen, and, most improbably, Bryan Adams, who most likely was brought in through his connection with fellow Canadian Bob Rock, who produced the album.
Rock, who had come a long way from his beginnings as guitarist for the punk-lite Payola$, solidified himself as the corporate rock producer with Dr. Feelgood‘s success, and he went on to help Metallica alienate their core fan base and transform them into a mega-commercial entity. Comparing the demos included here with the final versions makes clear Rock’s instincts for the genre. His production hallmarks all come to the fore: the big arena-sized drums, the crisply-recorded, heavily-compressed riffs pushed far into the foreground, the fat trimmed from all the solos, the tightly synchronized fills — all of these refining away anything raw or diminutive, the scale of the music escalated to suit the scale of larger-than-life personalities. Commercial hard rock only works if it’s larger-than-life, if its hedonism seems an irresistible force big enough to crowd out any concern for responsibility or reflection while it’s playing; its whole point is to posit a world where such things don’t exist and to offer characters whose impulsive lives listeners can vicariously partake in. The bigger hard rock sounds, the more it makes listeners forget.
As usual, the Crüe’s lyric sheet provokes much philosophical speculation, but perhaps special notice should be taken for the progressiveness of “Same Ol’ Situation”, which suggests that discovering one’s girlfriend has homosexual tendencies should not be considered out of the ordinary. The rest of the songs feature subtle, nuanced explorations into the mysteries of libidinal desires. “Slice of Your Pie” interrogates the latent anality and pedophilia inherent in contemporary scopophilia: “Hot child, always walk behind you for the rear view”. When in “She Goes Down” the Crüe explain that “You know she makes me feel good / Just like a bad girl should”, they present an apparent ontological paradox, coyly suggesting modern morality is merely nominalistic. “Sticky Sweet” traces the connections between sexual desire and the numinous forces inhabiting the world: “Oh good God there’s a fire in my pants, then lightning strikes and she laughs that evil laugh” — the “evil laugh” of his putative partner, or of Mother Nature herself in her unfathomable ineffability? It’s their unflinching investigation of the difficult questions that make the Crüe’s music stand the test of time and will certainly lead to release of variorum editions of their work to supplant these most recent reissues.