I’ve always been a little shocked at Motley Crue‘s perceived relevance. They’re seen as some kind of glam-rock demigods, placed in the same category as legitimate heroes, and no matter how many times I listen to them I fail to see their significance.
This isn’t to suggest that I don’t like Motley Crue. I found Shout At The Devil to be a perfectly wonderful album blaring through shitty Jensen car speakers under the influence of a few joints and a six-pack of Bud.
But let’s be honest: the band has been as successful at shafting their fans longer than they’ve been able to deliver the goods. Motley Crue’s initial heyday had a shelf life of 10 years, ending roughly around 1990. Excuses aside (internal fights, the rise of grunge, the fear of Tommy Lee‘s penis), the nearly twenty years since haven’t been too kind to them.
And they have only themselves to blame.
Since Dr Feelgood, we’ve been subjected to a few repetitious greatest hits compilations, a record label induced reunion album and a bizarro period where they actually thought that replacing vocalist Vince Neil was a good idea. What’s even more bizarre is that the best Crue release during this time came in the form of an awesome autobiography, The Dirt.
That’s right: the best thing Motley Crue has done in nearly twenty years is a fucking book.
So to call their ninth studio album, Saints of Los Angeles, the best album since Dr. Feelgood doesn’t mean shit. And to claim that it’s (finally) a return to the blueprint that made them successful is a little too late. We needed this reminder in ’91, back when the band signed (and squandered) a multi-million dollar contract with Elektra and gave the label and their fans virtually nothing to show for it.
Saints of Los Angeles is heavy, modern, and goes out of its way to remind us of the debauchery and trials of the band’s early years. They would like to suggest that it is a soundtrack to The Dirt and that they are survivors of bad choices, bad marriages, and bad vices.
What they don’t want you to know is that all of this is a last ditch effort at milking as much money out of their name as they can.
This is not their first “reunion.” No, the first one was actually about ten years ago when their label, recognizing that they dropped a ton of money into a band that would not be able to repay it, demanded that Vince Neil be placed back in the fold. The Crue obliged and the results were disastrous, prompting yet another layover until they could get their house of drama in order.
The most recent reunion is being portrayed as “from the heart” and hinting that they have something left to prove.
I question the integrity of this project and use the liner notes as proof. How can it be an honest reunion when some of the co-conspirators on Saints of Los Angeles sport names like DJ Ashba, Marti Frederiksen and James Michael? I don’t remember those names anywhere on my old Crue albums.
Yes, the band is so obsessed at delivering a credible comeback that they’ve hired associates (Ashba and Michael work with Nikki Sixx in his Sixx:AM side project while Frederiksen is responsible for a lot of Aerosmith‘s tripe from 1995 onward) to help them put The Dirt story arc to music.
Saints starts with a spoken word intro, “L.A.M.F.,” a slap in the face to Johnny Thunders and Shout At The Devil. While “In The Beginning” worked up humorous references to evil annihilation, “L.A.M.F.” finds Vince Neil warbling through some bullshit about “plastic angels” and other Botox-induced scams, ironically not far from the smoke and mirrors that the Crue is trying to work here.
The ghostwriters have come up with provocative song titles (“Motherfucker Of The Year,” “Down At The Whiskey,” “White Trash Circus,” etc.), they incorporate an appropriate amount of swear words, and they keep the ballads down to a minimum. What they haven’t done is provide us with an album that comes close to the Crue’s former glory. It reeks of disconnect because it’s the work of people who are completely disconnected from the band’s past. DJ Ashba was 16 years old by the time Girls Girls Girls came out. He may be credible enough to explain why the Crue meant so much to him, but he surely ain’t the guy I’d ask to help retell stories about the Sunset Strip.
To be fair, Mick Mars is found on more than a few songwriter credits and some of his guitar parts are surprisingly impressive. It should be noted that the possible reason for this is because Mars has not only seen his finances deteriorate thanks to ill-advised marriages devoid of prenuptials, but also his health has been a concern (he suffers from an arthritic condition). This record and any reunion tour serve as a clear retirement package for the 57-year-old guitarist.
Drummer Tommy Lee also sounds involved throughout, and Vince Neil, while never the most versatile vocalist around, is competent at barking out the storylines that a trio of outsiders has lain out in front of him.
And then there’s Nikki Sixx, a man who seems to genuinely enjoy telling endless stories of his overdoses, thereby securing the brand name for another generation of impressionable youth. These repeated tales of life-saving Crue paramedics, Ozzy snorting lines of ants, and groupies giving blowjobs while mewling like kittens conveniently ignore how they squandered it all, spiting their fans in the process.
To call Saints of Los Angeles a soundtrack to The Dirt is a disservice to that page-turner while paying an undeserved compliment to the record itself. It is a calculated effort that’s meant to strengthen the Crue’s own buying power than add to their fabled legacy.
It has been written that those who have the youth have the future, and since the best of Motley Crue’s has already been written, Saints of Los Angeles shows us that the band has very little future left.