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
My Mötley Crüe story begins in the summer of 1989. I had not yet reached my 10th birthday and had only recently discovered MTV. (You see, kids, there was a time when “Music Television” showed almost nothing but three- and four-minute short films, each set to a song, known as “music videos”—but those were simpler days.) One of the first videos to capture my attention and imagination started with pounding drums leading the way for the most evil-sounding guitar my young ears had ever heard and a hook that got under your skin and refused to come back out, and depicted a band—including a positively monstrous guitarist—surrounded in flames as its performed. I had never seen anything so cool.
The song was “Dr. Feelgood,” the title track of Mötley Crüe’s fifth album. I vividly remember my mom driving me to Records Plus on the day of its release (Sept. 1, 1989) so I could use my saved-up allowance money to buy it on cassette. (You see, kids—oh, never mind.)
“Dr. Feelgood” is nothing short of an arena rock masterpiece, sending the 1980s out on the highest note possible. Most probably consider it the Crüe’s finest hour (I give a slight edge to “Shout at the Devil”), and it’s hard to make a convincing argument against that. From the songwriting to the playing to the production, it’s virtually flawless. The key: sobriety.
Mötley reached its lowest point during the “Girls, Girls, Girls” tour, Nikki Sixx’s infamous overdose being rock bottom. So the band mambers checked themselves into rehab (except for Mick Mars, who cleaned up on his own), kicked the drugs that had fueled the band throughout its entire existence and set to work on their next album with a newfound focus.
“I had the time and clarity to cut away the fat of my writing, get together with the band, and put the songs through the Mötley machine, discussing and changing each until we all liked them,” Sixx wrote in “The Dirt.”
The process was more collaborative than it had ever been.
“Together, we all wrote what we thought could be our best album yet,” Sixx wrote. “For once the studio wasn’t a place to party and bring chicks, it was a place to work.”
Their taskmaster was producer Bob Rock, who pushed them as they had never been pushed before. Working in Vancouver, far away from the many temptations of Los Angeles, they lived and breathed their work.
“They came up to Vancouver and we just worked our butts off for three months,” Rock said in the liner notes of the 1999 re-release of “Dr. Feelgood.” “There was nothing that got in the way. They were just totally focused on their music.”
The recording boasts the thick, full sound for which Rock is known, but the magic goes beyond that. There is an energy and hunger—still palpable three decades later—that the band had not even approached since “Shout at the Devil.” It is not a stretch to say that, with Rock riding them so hard, each band member gives the best individual performance of his career.
Following the short introduction of “T.nT. (Terror ‘n Tinseltown),” the title track immediately puts the record into overdrive; “Slice of Your Pie” builds from an intro featuring the vocal stylings of Steven Tyler (Aerosmith was recording “Pump” at the same Vancouver studio) into a grooving rocker; “Rattlesnake Shake” uses horns and piano to get its boogie going; “Kickstart My Heart” is an up-tempo, adrenaline-fueled rocker that has served as a concert opener on many tours; “Without You,” unfortunately, is known more for its cheesy video than it is for being the best ballad in the Mötley catalog not called “Home Sweet Home”; “Same Ol’ Situation” is arena rock at its finest; “Sticky Sweet” and “She Goes Down” are solid album tracks, but don’t call them filler; “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” sneaks up on the listener, lulling you in with a reflective first half that gives way to fists-in-the-air, singalong chorus; and on the closer, “Time for Change,” Sixx displays a more mature side, commenting on the world around him.
Despite the polish, the album retains the signature Mötley attitude, with songs about drugs (“Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart”) and a whole lot of sex (“Slice of Your Pie,” “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Sticky Sweet,” “She Goes Down”).
“Dr. Feelgood” is without question the Crüe’s biggest success, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts, spawning five hit singles (“Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart,” “Without You,” “Don’t Go Away Mad,” “Same Ol’ Situation”), selling more than six million copies and supported with nearly two years of sold-out concerts. Mötley Crüe was a machine that could seemingly do no wrong. It is one of my biggest regrets that I was not able to see the band in concert on these tours, this period when it was at the height of their powers.
“The crowds were fanatical,” Tommy Lee wrote in “The Dirt.” “They knew every lyric, every chord, every downbeat off every album. And, for the first time, we were sober enough to enjoy it.”