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
Mötley Crüe had made an album with new frontman John Corabi—self-titled, released in 1994—that moved the band in a darker, less frivolous direction that fit a time when grunge and metal bands like Pantera were infiltrating the mainstream. Naturally and for a variety of reasons, the record was the biggest failure of the band’s career. Despite that, they soon hit the studio with producer Scott Humphrey to work on its follow-up. But chemistry that led to the topnotch “Mötley Crüe” album was gone, and before long, at the pushing and prodding of the bigwigs at Elektra Records, Corabi was out and Vince Neil was back.
All is right in the world again, right? Not quite.
“Generation Swine”, released in 1997, features the foursome that made Mötley Crüe what it is, but the magic of “Shout at the Devil” and “Dr. Feelgood” is nowhere in sight. Industrial rockers like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson had risen to prominence, and the Crüe spends much of the album riding the technological bandwagon.
It’s a shame because the beginning is filled with promise. One word—“Destroy!”—starts the first song, “Find Myself,” then Mick Mars’ guitar comes crashing in. Bassist Nikki Sixx handles vocals on the verses, half-singing about finding love and drugs. Vince’s reintroduction comes in the first chorus with the great line “I’m a sick motherfucker!” The old Mötley attitude is back. Our heroes have returned!
Not so fast.
The next song, “Afraid,” features what sounds like electronic drums; Mars’ guitar is virtually absent; and Neil is singing lyrics like, “She’s so afraid to kiss/And so afraid to laugh/Is she running from her past?” This sounds like trouble.
Song number three, “Flush,” is no better, a mopey tune that plods along without ever going anywhere. The title track perks things up with a punk rock flair, but then comes “Confessions,” which might as well be called “Flush Part 2.” “Beauty” could have been a sleazy rocker in the classic Mötley vein (it’s about a prostitute), but electronics bury its groove, while Neil and drummer Tommy Lee team up for maybe the worst vocal performance in Crüe history.
We haven’t even gotten to the really bad stuff yet. That would be “Glitter,” a spacey, schmaltzy love song with lyrics that would be laugh-out-loud funny if not for the shock of Sixx being associated with something so bad (“Let’s make a baby inside of you”). And “Brandon,” a Tommy Lee special complete with piano and a string quartet. The sentiment is sweet—it’s about Tommy’s first son—but that doesn’t pardon it from being an awful, awful song on every other level.
There are bright spots. “Anybody Out There?” is a blast of pure punk rock, a refreshing change of pace from the electronic sounds that permeate so much of the album. “A Rat Like Me” comes closest to the classic Mötley sound, the only song on which Vince Neil sounds completely comfortable.
The inherent problem of “Generation Swine” is that most of it was written before Vince came back into the fold. I don’t know whose voice they were hearing as they wrote, but it wasn’t his. He sounds lost on most of the album, whether it’s a heavy track like “Let Us Prey” or a ballad like “Glitter.”
The greatest flaw, however, is the incredible disappearing Mick Mars. The Crüe always has made stylistic changes from album to album, but through it all, Mars’ tones have defined the band’s sound. Here, the guitar parts spend much of their time hiding in the background, lacking personality when they manage to sneak out.
Mars places the blame on Humphrey.
The producer would “tell Tommy that he was a better guitarist than me or he’d have Nikki, who’s a bassist, playing my guitar parts,” Mars wrote in “The Dirt.”
Humphrey, in an interview in “The Dirt,” acknowledges Mars’ diminished role, though he insists he pushed for the opposite.
“… I wanted to make a Mötley Crüe record that sounded like the early stuff,” he said. “What I really liked was pure Mick Mars raw guitar.”
Humphrey said it was Nikki and Tommy, each of whom has a co-producer credit, who pushed the technological aspects, while he kept telling Sixx to stop trying to be Trent Reznor.
There is, however, one shining moment in which past and present, technology and classic Crüe collide in brilliant fashion: “Shout at the Devil ’97,” an industrial-strength reworking of the Mötley mainstay.
“Generation Swine” is a tremendously flawed effort but not entirely disposable. If nothing else, it was at least Nikki, Tommy, Vince and Mick. In the liner notes of the 1999 re-release, Vince sums it up best: “It was us being back together again. That’s what made it real exciting.”