A spate of reissues captures Motörhead at its finest, filling out a completist's library of bonus material, but never trumping the original albums.
Motörhead's Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades albums have each been reissued four times already, dating back to 1986, but the fifth time is a little different: Now they're expanded two-CD sets, sporting alternates, b-sides, and live tracks. Theoretically, it's a solid premise, but the execution is as confusing as it is rewarding.
You see, Sanctuary also did an excellent double CD of BBC live tracks of four shows from 1978, 1979, 1981, and 1986 with this set of reissues. But the '78 and '79 shows are also included on the Overkill reissue -- minus one cut each, "Keep Us on the Road" and "White Line Fever", respectively. "White Line Fever" is also omitted from the portion of the 1981 BBC show on the expanded Ace of Spades, which also excludes "Like a Nightmare". While it may seem like Sanctuary's using the repetition to pad the bonus discs out, however, there's actually quite a bit of other stuff to savor here -- not the least of which are the remasters of the original albums themselves.
Though preceded by 1977's eponymous debut, Overkill was the disc that really established the Motörhead sound and influence, not to mention the classic lineup of Lemmy (bass/vocals), Fast Eddie Clark (guitar), and Phil Taylor (drums). Every bit the head explosion implied by its cover, it was simply revolutionary in 1979 -- mixing metal angst and technicality with punk velocity and the feel of guttural rock 'n' roll. The title track blitzed with Taylor's overloaded, driving double-bass beat, while "Capricorn", "I'll Be Your Sister", "Metropolis", and "Damage Case" crunched with an intensity unheard in the days when punk had been left for dead in the UK. More than any other album, Overkill defined what heavy metal -- at least good heavy metal -- would sound like in the '80s: fast, loud, and uncompromisingly uncommercial.
Overkill is such a great album that it doesn't need bonuses, and -- on this reissue -- it doesn't get many worth hearing. In spite of the aforementioned omissions, the BBC tracks are very cool, showcasing cuts like "I'll Be Your Sister" and "Capricorn" in rawer, live form. It's also nice to have the b-sides "Louie Louie", "Too Late Too Late", and "Like a Nightmare". But do we really need three versions of "Louie Louie" and three more of "Tear Ya Down"?
Following on the heels of Overkill just seven months later in 1979, Bomber has always suffered in comparison -- but not for lack of material. The title track, "Dead Men Tell No Tales", "Poison", and "Sweet Revenge" are as good as any songs in the Motörhead canon. The performances, however, are a little off -- or at least, less intense than the previous album, rendering very good an album that could have been great. Perhaps reflecting that quality, the bonus disc on Bomber is considerably stronger than Overkill's, sporting the "Over the Top" b-side, the excellent Golden Years live EP from 1980 (which sports a killer fast cover of "Leaving Here"), and some raw alternates of LP cuts.
Motörhead made up for the slight lull of Bomber with its greatest effort next to Overkill, 1980's Ace of Spades. The title track is an unassailable classic, and the band's signature tune, kicking off an album's worth of venom-spitting, visceral rock 'n' roll with additional killer riffs running fast ("Live to Win", "Fast and Loose") and a little slower ("Love Me Like a Reptile", "Jailbait"). It was the heaviest rock on earth in 1980, making compost of AC/DC's supposedly great Back in Black album from the same year.
In spite of its odd use of the BBC sessions, the bonus disc on Ace of Spades is probably the best of the lot, offering the "Dirty Love" b-side (in three versions) and previously unreleased alternates of eight album cuts. All worth hearing, the album alternates range from a slightly different version of "Love Me Like a Reptile" and a slower, more grinding "Shoot You in the Back" to a radically different version of "Ace of Spades". Oh, and for what it's worth, this reissue uses the original cover art -- unlike the single disc from 2001, which inexplicably used an alternate photo.
The next studio album, Iron Fist (1982), contained a great title track, but very little else in the last gasp of the Lemmy-Clark-Taylor lineup. "Don't Need Religion" might have fit on Bomber, one or two others are OK, and the rest flat and uninspired. Apparently they still had it in concert, however, as the May 1982 Toronto show that comprises most of the bonus disc is considerably better -- though oddly they don't do "Iron Fist".
The best of the live stuff in this batch of reissues, however, is on BBC Live & In-Session. The John Peel Session from 1978 and the BBC In-Concert from 1979, as mentioned, represent Motörhead at its peak on material of Overkill vintage. Ditto on the 1981 session, and even the 1986 show with the reconstituted quartet lineup has a great take on "Killed By Death", alongside choice cuts from Orgasmatron. If you already own the classic albums and buy only one of the expanded reissues, this is the one to get.