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
One thing you can never accuse Mötley Crüe of is being predictable. In 1989, “Dr. Feelgood” became the band’s first number one album and went on to sell more than six million copies. Two years later, the “Decade of Decadence” compilation charted at number two, spawned the Mötley classic “Primal Scream” and eventually went double platinum.
So what they do next? Find a new singer, of course. The parties disagree on how it happened, but in February 1992, Vince Neil was out. Enter John Corabi, formerly of The Scream. They could not have found someone more unlike Neil—Corabi with his dark look and deep, bluesy, versatile voice, and Vince with his sunny blonde looks, hard-partying image and limited vocal range.
“Vince is the lighter side—the party, the chicks, the ‘ultimate rock ‘n’ roll rock star lead singer,’” Nikki Sixx said in the liner notes of the 1999 re-release of the “Mötley Crüe” album, originally released in 1994. “When he was out, it allowed the darker side to breathe.”
By the time Corabi joined the band, the pop-infused glam metal the Crüe perfected in the 1980s was long gone, replaced by the likes of more aggressive acts such as Pantera and gloomy Seattle-based bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. These influences are all over the heavy, groove-oriented sound of “Mötley Crüe.” Corabi was not a Crüe fan before joining, which helps explain the dramatic shift.
For the other three band members, it was more than a new singer.
“Everyone was on new territory creatively …,” Corabi wrote in “The Dirt.” “Mick [Mars] had never worked with a second guitarist, Nikki had never worked with a second lyricist, and the band had never written songs through just jamming. We couldn’t wait for Mötley fans to hear what we’d done.”
The ambition of the album is astounding; nothing else in the Mötley catalog comes remotely close to it. There are riff-driven slabs of metal like “Power to the Music” and “Hammered”; the twisted “Uncle Jack,” inspired by a relative of Corabi’s who molested his brothers and sisters; “Smoke the Sky,” a song heavy enough to be worthy of Pantera; and the acoustic rocker “Loveshine.”
The high point is undoubtedly “Misunderstood.” It begins with acoustic guitar and a soft Corabi vocal, adding strings and other sounds as it grows into an angry rock song, then decompressing with more acoustic guitar and strings, and some beautiful vocal harmonies. Absolutely brilliant. In a perfect world, it would have been a massive hit. But the video showed an old man with a gun, and MTV refused to air it.
Maybe if Mötley Crüe had played nice with MTV from the start, instead of walking out on an interview because they didn’t like a question, the album would have had more of a chance. It hit the charts at number seven, then quickly faded. The concert halls got smaller and smaller before tours were canceled altogether.
The problem: As great as it is, the album simply does not sound like Mötley Crüe, something the band considered a strength.
“We thought we had really made an intelligent Mötley Crüe record,” Corabi wrote, “with a lot of commentary on the kooky shit going on in the world, from the Rodney King riots in L.A. to the latest fury over music censorship.”
But that isn’t what Mötley Crüe fans want. They fell in love and many grew up with the ultimate sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll band, and their heroes had turned their backs on that.
“In retrospect, the smartest thing we could have done would have been to change the name of the band,” Sixx said in the re-release liner notes. “That would have let us have complete and utter acceptance or denial based on the music, not based on the name.”
It would have been asking a lot for them to abandon the identity they had spent more than a decade building. But certainly calling the album “Mötley Crüe” was a mistake. There is no way of knowing whether its fate would have been different had it not borne the Mötley name. I’d like to think it would have been the hit it deserved to be. I have to believe there is a way for music this good to be successful.