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
The early years of the 21st century were an eventful time for Mötley Crüe. The album intended to be its return to form, “New Tattoo” (2000), and the subsequent tour flopped. Illness forced drummer Randy Castillo to the sidelines; his replacement was Hole’s Samantha Maloney. Castillo eventually was diagnosed with stomach cancer and passed away in 2002. The year 2001 saw maybe the most important development of the latter portion of the band’s career: the publication of its autobiography, “The Dirt.” An episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music” had hinted at the debauchery that followed the Mötley men wherever they went; this book elevated it to legendary status.
It was during this time that a new generation of music-lovers found their way to the Crüe and older fans rediscovered the band many had grown up with. Demand was go great that it seemed to be only a matter of time before the four original band members put aside their differences and realized that apart they could never match the magic they created together. So Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx made nice in late 2004, released three newly recorded tracks on the two-disc compilation “Red, White & Crüe” in early 2005, then spent the next year and more crisscrossing the globe on one hugely successful tour after another.
Mötley never has been a band to rest on its past success, so 2008 brought the release of “Saints of Los Angeles,” the first studio album by the original lineup in 11 years.
In an interview with RockBand.com, Sixx described the band’s mindset: “We try not to think too much. The biggest thought process behind this was that Mick said, ‘I want loud guitars.’ Vince said, ‘Great songs.’ And I said, ‘Snotty lyrics.’ Okay, that’s it, guys. But to be honest with you, we did say, ‘Let’s do something we haven’t done—Let’s tell a story from beginning to end.’ And who better to tell the story of Mötley Crüe than us?”
“Saints of Los Angeles,” loosely based on “The Dirt” and largely written by Sixx with James Michael and DJ Ashba, his cohorts in his other band, Sixx:A.M., tracks the Crüe’s development from a hungry young band desperate for attention and respect (“Face Down in the Dirt,” “What’s It Gonna Take”) to stars of the local scene (“Down at the Whiskey”) to stars on a whole other level (the title track, “Mutherfucker of the Year”). Then there are the complications that come along with success—the business side (“Welcome to the Machine”), women (“Chicks = Trouble,” “This Ain’t a Love Song”) and dysfunction within the band (“White Trash Circus”).
Naturally, it is Mötley’s most focused album to date—musically, as well as lyrically. There is a real flow from song to song, which makes an incredibly satisfying listen from front to back. It virtually screams out to be played in its entirety on concert stages. The surprising aspect of it is that this is a group that has existed for nearly 30 years, playing songs about itself, the nostalgia dripping from your speakers with each note, yet it sounds like a band with a huge chip on its shoulder, as if they got the impression people saw them as a nostalgia act on their reunion tours and they are determined to prove them wrong. There is a powerful energy about the recording; Mötley hasn’t sound this alive since “Dr. Feelgood” (1989).
Mars’ biting guitar tone leads the charge, powered by Lee’s propulsive drums. When the songwriting and production are there (Michael has the producing reins), those should be expected on a Mötley album. The biggest surprise is the performance of Vince Neil, who sounds at least 10 years younger than he did on “New Tattoo.” I’ll admit that I did not think he had it in him to sound this good again.
“Saints of Los Angeles” is a great hard rock album, incorporating some modern elements while staying true to everything Mötley Crüe is at its core. Though the band continued as a touring act through the end of 2015 and has recorded new material for the film adaptation of its autobiography “The Dirt,” all indications are this will stand as the final Mötley studio record. The closing song, “Goin’ Out Swinging,” says it all.