Leading up to the March 22 release of “The Dirt” on Netflix, Live Metal is taking a look back at each of Mötley Crüe’s studio albums.
Review by Greg Maki
“Too Fast for Love,” self-released in 1981, remastered and re-released by Elektra Records in 1982, laid the foundation for Mötley Crüe, introducing band to the masses and, with no support from the mainstream media, managing to sell 100,000 copies. It serves as a near-perfect time capsule, but in what would become common for the Crüe, hardly hinted at what was to come next.
With band members, bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx in particular, dabbling in the occult, the music took on a dark, dangerous tone on Mötley’s sophomore album, 1983’s “Shout at the Devil.” Sixx gives much of the credit to guitarist Mick Mars. “A lot of the influence on that record came directly from Mick Mars’ guitar tone. For me, that was the overview of the whole next step for Mötley Crüe,” Sixx said in the liner notes of the 1999 reissue. Visually, the band founds its inspiration in the movies. “We were starting to get bored with the glam-punk image because so many other bands had copied it,” Sixx wrote in the band’s memoir, “The Dirt,” “so our look evolved into a cross between [‘Mad Max’ and ‘Escape from New York’].
The album starts with the ominous narration of “In the Beginning,” setting the stage of a post-apocalyptic future. The title track, one of the best fists-in-the-air hard rock anthems ever written, immediately kicks the record into high gear. From the get-go, through a combination of higher production values and more refined playing, it is apparent that the drumming of Tommy Lee is the music’s driving force. Songs like “Looks That Kill,” “Bastard,” “Red Hot” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” have an undeniable forward momentum that comes from Lee’s foundation. If Mars defines the sound of the band, Lee is the engine that keeps it in motion.
The Crüe shows a greater sense of dynamics than on its debut, inserting the haunting, near-instrumental “God Bless the Children of the Beast” between “Bastard” and a dark, dark cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” (and you just know they chose that song for its Charles Manson connection).
“Shout at the Devil” marks the band’s first collaboration with producer Tom Werman, the start of a relationship that remains contentious to this day. In his defense, it’s hard to imagine a tougher assignment. In “The Dirt,” Sixx described the band’s mindset at the time: “We thought we were the baddest creatures on God’s great earth. Nobody could do it as hard as us and as much as us, and get away with it like us. There was no competition. The more fucked up we got, the greater people thought we were and the more they supplied us with what we needed to get even more fucked up.” The “Shout at the Devil” liner notes famously claim, “This album was recorded on Foster’s Lager, Budweiser, Bombay Gin, lots of Jack Daniels, Kahlua and Brandy, Quackers and Krell [the band’s code word for cocaine], and Wild Women!”
Under the circumstances, it’s a minor miracle the album was recorded at all.
Werman’s production gives the recording a large, full sound while retaining the raw, aggressive feel of “Too Fast for Love.” Neil still has little vocal range, but the vicious edge of the music does not require it from him—it needs him to sound evil as he sings songs about sex, violence and rebellion, and he does. The band also uses gang vocals to great effect in most of the choruses.
Musically, “Shout at the Devil” is an incredibly focused album, and its songs stand up even better when listened to in one sitting than when taken individually. It was the band’s first chance to make a record the way the big boys do it, and it responded with a classic. A triumphant performance in May 1983 at the US Festival, a three-day concert that also featured Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and Van Halen, told the Crüe they were on the cusp of something huge. The band needed a career-defining album to put it over the top. “Shout at the Devil” is that album.
The next big break came when Ozzy took Mötley out as the opening act on his 1984 “Bark at the Moon” tour, taking both to new levels of rock star insanity.
In “The Dirt,” Sixx wrote: “If the performance at the US Festival was a spark illuminating what we would become, then the Ozzy tour was the match that set the whole band ablaze.”