Monday, January 28, 2014. Mötley Crüe holds a press conference to announce their impending “retirement” following one final farewell tour. The fact that they hadn’t released an album of new material in 6 years seemed to indicate that they had already retired, but then far be it for me to accuse the mighty Crüe of “reaching” when it comes to publicity. Somewhat ironically that very morning I had grabbed my copy of the band’s sophomore album Shout At The Devil and threw it into my car stereo in preparation of writing this retro review. Funny how the world works sometimes.
While I haven’t set any definitive rules about the order I was going to review my music collection, I did figure it would make the most sense to begin my analysis of any particular artist with the first album of theirs that happened to make its way into my possession (the exception being new or recent releases). Strictly speaking, when it comes to Mötley Crüe that would be their 1985 album Theater Of Pain¸ but starting there would be misleading, as I was more than a little familiar with Speak Of The Devil by that time thanks to the fact that my sister owned the cassette tape and I borrowed it a LOT. By early 1984 I had begun to discover bands I could call my own, as opposed to the staples of classic rock radio that I had been weaned on. Def Leppard and Quiet Riot had already started luring me towards heavier rock and both Ratt and Twisted Sister were months away from breakthroughs of their own. Those groups grabbed me with an aggressive approach that felt dirtier and meaner than the other stuff I was hearing on the radio (I wasn’t heavy metal savvy enough to be hip to Metallica or Anthrax yet), yet while the Crüe slid nicely in alongside those bands it wasn’t their sound which hijacked my 11 year-old attention, it was their look. Quiet Riot’s metal mask logo may have *looked* cool, but Kevin DuBrow’s ridiculous white boy afro didn’t intimidate anything and Joe Elliot’s sleeveless Union Jack t-shirt wasn’t about to scare anybody either. But the Crüe, with their studded leather and garish make-up, now THAT was something that said “danger” to an adolescent kid. I still remember the poster of the album cover my sister had hanging on the back of her bedroom door, reminding me anytime I dared enter that evil lurked inside that shrine to purple she called home. Let’s face it, Mick Mars was an ugly dude and ugly dudes didn’t get on posters unless they had some serious cred. So yes, much as one might expect given a career trajectory that has placed publicity well ahead of musicianship, I was drawn to Mötley Crüe more for their image than their skill. And that is exactly as it should be.
Let’s be honest here, of all the bands that achieved world-wide fame on the scale of the aforementioned Crüe, there are few who did it with less raw musical ability than the bad boys from the Sunset Strip. Vince Neil has a tepid voice that is often strained well beyond his meager range for the sake of “showmanship”, his strafing caterwaul on “Shout At The Devil” being a prime example. As for Nikki Sixx on bass and Tommy Lee on drums, yes, they could be flashy, and yes, they usually got the job done, but you weren’t likely to see either of them cracking any musician’s magazine’s top 10 anytime soon. Poor Mick Mars was by far the most accomplished player of the group, a fact that was often overlooked during an era where guitar shredding was a requirement rather than a novelty. I always found him to be one of the better riff players in the genre (“Looks That Kill” and “Red Hot” being two of the better examples off of Shout). As songwriters, the lead duo of Sixx and Lee knew how to write catchy anthems, but they were also buried beneath an avalanche of clichés and song structures that were fairly pedestrian.
Yet therein lay a great deal of Mötley Crüe’s charm; they were a band that always favored attitude over ability, notoriety over notes. They were a band that was never in danger of being called “sellouts” because like Kiss a decade before them they made no bones about their desire to sell whatever they could to whoever they could in hopes that it would make them the rock stars they so desperately desired to be. On Shout At The Devil that meant embracing the controversy that came with using a pentagram with some of the promotional material and under-dubbing a faint “Jesus is Satan” chant on the album’s title track. When Vince Neil notoriously climbed behind the wheel of a Pantera and drunkenly crashed into an oncoming car killing fellow musician Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley (and severely injuring the two occupants of the other vehicle) it created the kind of publicity that might have killed other bands but instead only increased the Crüe’s rapidly rising bad boy image. They weren’t looking for Grammy’s to make their name.
Shout At The Devil was the band’s breakthrough album, eventually peaking at #17 on the Billboard 200 and going double platinum inside of two years. Both “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young To Fall In Love” hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart, no small feat at the time for a band of their ilk, and along with the title track helped the Crüe carve out valuable radio and MTV time. It was the album that launched the band into stardom. Their cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” didn’t break any new ground, but the mere choice of it – given the connection to convicted cult leader Charles Manson – was perfect for a band aspiring to be the one your parents warned you about and the delivery was suitably aggressive. As always there was some filler, as “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid” and “Ten Seconds To Love” are plodding even by 1984’s standards and the faux evil behind “God Bless The Children Of The Beast” and “In The Beginning” wasn’t as scary as the band obviously hoped, even to an 11 year-old. Album closer “Danger” though, hinted at the kind of street savvy atmosphere the band was capable of (although once again undercut by a weak Vince Neil vocal).
In the end, Shout At The Devil was the perfect introduction to a band that would go on to redefine what it meant to be a “rock star” in the 80’s age of excess. I listen to it today and recall fondly the thrill it gave me as a kid even though critically it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Which is probably has as much to do with my forever feeling that for all their bluster they were a band capable of so much more had they ever put the lifestyle on the backburner long enough to concentrate on really making a special album. They would come close years later with Dr. Feelgood and actually hit one out of the park with their self-titled reboot album in 1994, but by then the band and the music they played was too far out of fashion to matter.
ALBUM RATING: 6.
1. In The Beginning
5. God Bless The Children Of The Beast
7. Red Hot
9. Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid
10. Ten Seconds To Love
Vince Neil (V), Mick Mars (G), Nikki Sixx (B), Tommy Lee (D)
Produced by Tom Werman.