GLAM PHASE: MOTLEY CRUE, Part 1 (1981-1985)

If you had to pick a single band that formed the template for glam metal, Motley Crue would be that band for multiple reasons. They were one of the first to get an album out there, creating a blend of pop hooks and metal riffs that would form the bedrock of this sound. They also lived wild lives perfect for tabloid journalism: addiction, debauchery, infighting and near-death events were a steady part of their press, making them the defining bad boys of the scene (at least until Guns ‘N Roses came along). Finally, the following look at their first three albums shows they unwittingly pioneered the glam metal trend of allowing pop concerns to overtake the metal content of their records.

TOO FAST FOR LOVE (1981): Before they broke out on a national level, Crue’s debut played a key role in spawning the L.A. glam scene. Decades after the fact, it remains a bracing listen that mixes toothy, almost feral production values and arrangements, even in its remixed form, with head songwriter Sixx’s unerring skill for fusing proto-metal riffs with hooky song structures that are half power-pop and half ’70s A.M. hit singles. You get fist-pumping sing-along choruses in the title track and “Live Wire,” some atmospheric Sunset Strip moodpiece sleaze in “Piece Of Your Action” and a classic rock and roll death song crossed with a gutter-level version of Springsteen melodrama in “On With The Show.” Neil’s nasal yet tuneful vocals make the songs sound eternally youthful and Mars’ riff-slinging is the secret weapon that anchors the music, particularly on “Merry Go Round,” which offers as many guitar textures as it does shifts in mood. Song for song, it’s the most consistent album they’d ever wax – and Lee’s skill with the cowbell is never less than smile-inducing.

SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1983): This was the Satanic Panic event of ’80s mall metal, complete with pentagram cover and black-and-red leather aesthetics. Despite arousing Tipper Gore’s ire, the contents sound quaint today… but also have period charm to burn. The tribal-stomp inferno of the title track craftily mixes horror movie imagery, macho metal braggadocio and arena rock theatrics to potent effect and singles “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young To Fall In Love” roll along on panzer rhythms from Lee, Neil’s growl-to-wail vocals and molten yet catchy riffs from Mars. Tom Werman’s production wraps the pop hooks in gleaming audiophile armor that skillfully exploits the Mars/Lee firepower and Sixx pens one relentless tune after another that weld brooding ’80s riffs to ’70s pop-metal melodies a la Kiss. Other faves here include “Red Hot,” which retools speed metal for bubblegum catchiness, and brooding, self-mythologizing closer “Danger,” which made the Sunset Strip scene sound addictively ominous. Side note: ever notice how the opening recitation sounds like the glam metal cousin of “Future Legend” from David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs?

THEATER OF PAIN (1985): This was completed in spite of the band’s self-destructive tendencies: Neil’s arrest for a fatal drunk driving accident cast a pall over the sessions and Sixx was deep into heroin. The songwriting suffered as a result, with half the album either repeating the past (“Use It Or Lose It” is a rewrite of “Red Hot,” right down to the double bass drumming) or offering barely-there tunes with a solid chorus and little else, like “Raise Your Hands And Rock.” It’s telling that the strongest tunes here are the Brownsville Station cover “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room,” with a clever arrangement that updates ’70s glam hooks to the ’80s, and power ballad “Home Sweet Home,” an effective pop crossover that plays like the glam metal version of Journey’s “Faithfully.” The strongest rockers are the moody Aerosmith homage “City Boy Blues” and the well-arranged, subtly hooky “Tonight We Need A Lover.” Werman’s production lends surface slickness but even generous fans will have to admit it’s the weakest album of their key era.

 




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