GLAM PHASE: MOTLEY CRUE, Part 2 (1987-1994)

Schlockmania’s tour through the Motley Crue catalog continues with the three album released between 1987 and 1994. It’s a fascinating triptych made from three related yet different parts. The first album is the work of a band struggling to keep it together while at the top of their profession, the second is the result of them working overtime to prove they could deliver consistency on a par with their level of success and the third is a daring stab at artistic legitimacy released after the subgenre they defined had been dropped in the cultural trash can by pop culture’s tastemakers.

There’s worthwhile music on each for glam metal fans – and two of them are masterpieces (one widely recognized as such, the other on a kind of underground level).

Members: Vince Neil (lead vocals on 1 & 2), John Corabi (lead vocals on 3), Mick Mars (guitar), Nikki Sixx (bass), Tommy Lee (drums)

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS (1987): Despite going multi-platinum, this is another album the band prefers to write off. They were awash in chemical dysfunction, particularly lead songwriter Sixx, leading to an album widely considered to be two ace singles and a bunch of throwaways. Granted, obvious filler like the biker-rock-by-numbers of “Bad Boy Boogie” and an energetic but generic glam-metal live take on “Jailhouse Rock” do not help. That said, those two singles live up to the hype: “Wild Side” is a tough rocker that sets a lyrical panorama of L.A. sleaze to a tune full of dramatic rhythmic shifts and authoritative Mars axework while the title track is an inspired pop metal confection, a “Surfin U.S.A.”-style international travelogue that replaces surfing spots with strip clubs. There are also a couple of underrated gems amid the post-singles rubble here: “Dancing On Glass” is a relentless pounder with tormented junkie confessional lyrics and “You’re All I Need” transforms the murder ballad into a grand, almost Alice Cooper-esque power ballad. It’s better than Theater Of Pain but still too patchy.

DR. FEELGOOD (1989): This was the Crue’s biggest financial and critical success because it shows the strongest work ethic of any album from their classic era.  Everyone sobered up for this outing, which further benefitted from taskmaster producer Bob Rock pushing them as songwriters and performers. The tunes are still the same straightforward, sleazy Sunset Strip material but they show more ambition in how they are arranged: dig the acoustic blues intro and extended guitar-heavy outro that lend texture to what could have been a standard heavy boogie on “Slice Of Your Pie” or the dual-textured guitar break in “Sticky Sweet” that juxtaposes acoustic and electric riffs. This attention to detail resulted in their best singles: the power ballad tactics of “Without You” are enlivened by Neil’s best-ever vocals and a surprisingly heavy chorus, “Same Ol’ Situation” gets maximum mileage from the tension between tough riffs and bubblegum-sweet vocal harmonies and the title track might be their most credible heavy metal moment. Their most consistent album since Too Fast For Love; just one well-crafted rocker after another.

MOTLEY CRUE (1994): The delete bin stepchild of the catalog and the only one without Neil on lead vocals. It reinvents the band’s sound from top to bottom for a darker, heavier album aimed at artistic credibility, aided by new vocalist/rhythm guitarist/co-lyricist Corabi. The lyrics tackle topics like child abuse (“Uncle Jack”) and environmental problems (“Dropping Like Flies”) while the music mixes controlled heaviness a la Metallica’s “Black Album” with some alt-rock/grunge shadings. The rumbling, craftily arranged “Hooligan’s Holiday” was the single but the highlight is “Misunderstood,” a Cinemascope epic about unrealized dreams that mixes psychedelia, orchestration and a metal midsection. Other surprises include the credible acoustic Zep homage “Loveshine” and the ’70s glam-meets-Guns N’ Roses rocker “Poison Apples.” It does the metal-goes-alternative thing better than it ever got credit for, with the band playing as strongly as they did on Dr. Feelgood and Corabi adding the kind of leather-lunged, gritty vocals Neil would never have been able to pull off. Fans rejected its stylistic about-face and the critics yawned but it’s earned a small, well-deserved cult following.

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