Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best of 2008: 6. Motley Crue, "Saints of Los Angeles"

A second opinion: Even the most hardcore Crue fan had to have pretty much written the band off after those two lame late 1990s records that were overshadowed by the antics of the band members. This is a surprising bit of down and dirty rock that revitalizes the band, though. Strong grooves, solid hooks and plenty of sleaze.

Original review: It’s about time that Motley Crue remembered what they do best.

Since their first breakup in the early 1990s, they’ve struggled to find their identity. For those who haven’t been keeping score, it started with the heavier sound of 1994’s self-titled record with vocalist John Corabi. It was a solid record, arguably one of the best in their catalog from a musical standpoint, but a lot of longtime fans didn’t buy into Corabi. That resulted in the return of original singer Vince Neil for the dismal 1997 effort "Generation Swine," where the band tried to show off its “artistic” side. Really bad idea.

Another breakup followed, with drummer Tommy Lee leaving and the late Randy Castillo stepping in. In 2000, the band again tried to placate fans displeased with the direction of "Generation Swine" with "New Tattoo." An attempt at a return to their glam success of the 1980s, the record, for the most part, contained a collection of lame songs that would make the worst ’80s hair band cringe.

So then it was time for another reunion. "The Red, White and Crue" “best of” package brought us two very promising new tracks in “If I Die Tomorrow” and “Sick Love Song,” easily the best tune the band had recorded in 15 years or so. There was some excitement, but tempered. After all, fans have been there before.

The good news is, this time, they got it right. No electronic noise, no alternative, no plaintive ballads about band members’ children, just straight up rock. While "Saints of Los Angeles" is certainly no match for "Shout at the Devil," it is a return to what you want from a Motley Crue record: sleazy, three chord anthems about sex and partying. It’s music to turn off your brain, pick up a drink and rock out with.

There are some stinkers here. “The Animal in Me” takes itself too seriously. It’s too hard to get past the goofy lyrics of “Chicks = Trouble” to enjoy the pretty good blues rock stomp of the music. The tough guy bravado of “Goin’ Out Swingin’” doesn’t translate musically, and “Down at the Whisky” retains that thin, lifeless, going-through-the-motions feel that sank "New Tattoo."

But when they’re on, they’re really on. A concept record of sorts, since almost every song here is about the band, the best moments come when Motley Crue embraces their past and delivers some raunchy, glitzy, mindless rock ‘n’ roll. The title track is a standout moment, reminiscent of the "Dr. Feelgood" era. There are also some hot grooves to be found throughout the record on songs like “Mutherfucker of the Year” and the record’s second-best track “This Ain’t a Love Song,” which reminds me a lot of “Primal Scream” from their first “best of” compilation way back when. They rock out in fine form on the bouncing “White Trash Circus,” and tip the hat to Alice Cooper on “Just Another Psycho” - a song that’s begging for a guest shot from Cooper, but unfortunately doesn’t get it.

If you hated Motley Crue in the 1980s and wish that era in rock history would go away, then likely nothing will change with this record. If you’re a fan that wandered away during the band’s lost years, you should definitely give "Saints of Los Angeles" a listen. The record has its ups and downs and doesn’t completely match the energy of their heyday, but it’s easily their best work since 1994’s "Motley Crue."

Get "Saints of Los Angeles."

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