Getting Into: Motörhead: Part 2
Six years and six albums (sit down Radu) as a power trio had seen Motörhead hit highs no one had dared think possible when the band exploded onto the scene in a deafening din of high octane rock 'n' roll. All the infamous tales of decadence and debauchery that had gone hand in hand with the band's stellar output had ensured that the band in its classic iteration could not last, though for that matter, neither could its next line-up.
Following the departure of Robertson and Taylor after the release of Another Perfect Day, Lemmy was left as the sole remaining member of Motörhead; deciding to do what he did best and forge his own path ahead regardless of what naysayers may have said, Lemmy decided to replace Robertson with not one but two guitarists, in the form of ex-Persian Risk NWOBHM veteran Phil Campbell and ex-Warfare six-stringer Würzel, alongside a somewhat revolving cast behind the drums that would eventually settle on the legendary Mikkey Dee.
All told, Orgasmatron is a divisive album in the band's career; some fans rank it amongst the band's best work, as a welcome return to the band's classic sound that went on a brief hiatus during the Robertson years, while others see the album an overhyped but still appreciated revival of their earlier approach. Orgasmatron sees the introduction of two long-term members in the shape of guitarists Phil Campbell and Würzel, who pad out the sound in a way the band hadn't previously explored, alongside a short-term (only lasting this album) appointment behind the skins in ex-Saxon drummer Pete Gil. The transition is about as seamless as you can get, with each member holding up the more traditional Motörhead sound while also bringing their own personality to the table.
1986 - Orgasmatron
1986 - Orgasmatron
Looming large over the album is the production of Bill Laswell, who is renowned for giving the drums a large, low and explosive sound; it will be of no surprise that Orgasmatron is no different. Gil's drumming sounds larger than life, but ill-fitting coming off of the run of albums with Taylor, with the fast tracks like "Ridin' With The Driver" feeling somehow wrong, or at the very least clipped. On the slower tracks like "Deaf Forever" and the title track, the drum sound fits like an iron fist in a velvet glove, the booming bursts of power adding groove and building atmosphere at the same time. It is fitting then that these two tracks alongside "Built For Speed" make for the album's highlights.
The biggest change the new-look two-guitar line-up has on the band's sound is that it allows for Campbell and Würzel to interplay with each other ("Nothing Up My Sleeve") and serve as their own rhythm section, given that Lemmy has never played as a true rhythm section. Lemmy continues to provide his trademark wall of sound and little changes in terms of his style; the one difference you will notice is during the solos, with the rhythm guitarist able to fill in the void between the solo and the interplay between Lemmy and the drummer. While the band were still firing, they weren't flying on all cylinders just yet; Orgasmatron is worth a spin now and then, but sits in the middle of the band's discography all things considered.
For as every bit as divisive as the two preceding albums had been, Rock N' Roll was as unifying, though for the wrong reasons. Oft ranking amongst the band's worst work, Rock N' Roll was the lowest point the band had reached up until this point and dragged the band's popularity down with it. The line-up had again changed, with Pete Gil having vacated the drum stool in short order; 'Philthy' would return after a one-album break.
1987 - Rock N' Roll
1987 - Rock N' Roll
Perhaps the best known track off of the album is "Eat The Rich", written for the comedy movie of the same name, a song that is passable but features some of the worst lyrics I've heard from Lemmy, which will make you cringe. Given the film has been largely forgotten, this caveat explaining the origin of the lyrics is also overlooked, which only compounds the issue. The other memorable moment to come out this album is the guest 'sermon' from Michael Palin, a spoken word section that does make you sit up and take notice.
While I doubt many detractors of the band who say 'every album sounds the same' will have delved far enough into the band's discography to have heard this cut, it is a blessing, given that it would add credence to that argument. Rock N' Roll's problem is that much of its material is just weaker rehashes of ideas the band has produced better before, with "Stone Deaf In The USA" sounding like an alternate version of "No Class" (which is funny, considering that was a rip-off of ZZ Top) and "The Wolf" being a merger of "Overkill" and "Mean Machine". The album does however contain two very overlooked tracks in "Dogs" and "Boogey Man", which are highly enjoyable and make the second half of the album a far more memorable and entertaining run through than the first half.
An album I rarely find myself putting on, it is ironic that perhaps the most impressionable tracks to come out of these sessions didn't actually appear on the album proper, instead being relegated to B-sides. You can easily find them now on the deluxe versions of the album, but I would advise checking out "Cradle To The Grave" and "Just 'Cos You Got The Power", which would have elevated the album had they been included.
The dawning of a new decade saw what would ultimately be a mixed bag for the band, releasing their strongest album in the best part of a decade and raising the band's profile to the extent that they got their first Grammy nomination. With the band later bemoaning label issues and shenanigans for the album not living up to expectations commercially, this argument is lended credence due to the sheer quality that runs through the eleven tracks. From the off, "The One To Sing The Blues" is an assured slab of metal that puts the last four albums in its shade, running the gamut of flavours the band had made their own over the years; it shows that the band were not reliant on the unique chemistry of the 'classic' line-up for quality.
1991 - 1916
1991 - 1916
When you hear this album, you will be surprised how an album of such overt quality is somewhat of a hidden gem; while "Going To Brazil" became a live staple up until the end, the rest of the album contains some of the band's better work, like "I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care)" or "Shut You Down". The other song next to "Going To Brazil" that would be best remembered is Lemmy's ode to New York punkers The Ramones of the same name, which marries the Motörheadmetallic attack with a punk ethos a la the band in question, which will remind you Motörhead. The album does have its moments where the underlying idea doesn't quite work out the way they planned. "Nightmare/The Dreamtime" and "Love Me Forever" try to be slow-burning, atmospheric yet hard-hitting tracks, which the band have pulled off since; while the former doesn't work at all, the latter does have some great guitar work by Campbell and Würzel, which rank amongst some of their best guitar solos on a Motörhead track.
Perhaps one of the more poignant tracks in the band's history is the title track "1916", a solemn and orchestral number recounting the futility of World War I that was a total tonal shift for fans up to this point. If you come across someone who says the band rewrote the same song again and again, put this on and watch them eat their words. Alas, 1916 would serve as the final full studio outing for 'Philthy', who would leave the band during the recording of the follow-up album; with his commitment to the band allegedly being called into question many times over the years, he managed to go out on a high note at the very least.
Widely regarded as the band's worst album (and for good reason), March Ör Die is the least fondly remembered record put out by the band. It sees the band put in one of their more uninspired performances alongside some of the most pedestrian material they would release. For every bit as good as the preceding album had been, March Ör Die was as bad. If you want an easy comparison then listen to both title tracks and hear for yourself; while the former album tried something new and was a new twist on the formula, "March Ör Die" is derivative and disinteresting. Added to this is that the album features two cover tracks (though one was a song written by Lemmy in the form of "Hellraiser"), which suggests a struggle to muster up enough material. Given the band was dealing with the second and final departure of 'Philthy' around this time (his place taken by session musician Tommy Aldridge for the majority of this album), it is understandable why morale and performances were workmanlike rather than enthused. While Aldridge plays the parts well, he lacks the unhinged clinging onto the edge urgency that drives many of the band's classic tunes.
1992 - March Ör Die
1992 - March Ör Die
The rest of the band, however, appear to clock in and do the minimum required; few moments of musical brilliance are on show throughout the album, with the band seemingly willing to rest on their laurels and their latent talents. Tracks like "Stand" and "Cat Scratch Fever" sound as if the band only turned up out of obligation and feel devoid of enthusiasm. The only two tracks that I find myself returning to are "Bad Religion" and "Hellraiser"; both find that perfect balance between threatening atmosphere and a hammering heavy groove that will sweep you off your feet by taking you out at the knees. It is telling that "Hellraiser" is the debut appearance by Mikkey Dee and sees the quality of the drum performance elevated, in turn leading to the band upping their own game to match.
While I wouldn't say avoid it outright, it is probably the album you least need to hear and the one you will get the least out of. I usually only spin it to hear the aforementioned two good tracks and even less occasionally I'll let the record play out a few other tracks before I move on to something else.
You didn't think the band were written off did you?
1993 - Bastards
1993 - Bastards
If Bastards had followed 1916, I imagine the 90's would have turned out very differently for the band. Released in 1993 as the new regimes in rock and metal were in full swing, Motörhead decided to evolve rather than die by releasing their heaviest and most unchained album ever. The band found a launchpad instead of a spring in their step and massively overcompensated for the lack of enthusiasm in their prior record by giving Bastards 200%.
The opening six-track run will leave your head spinning between the speed and heaviness brought by the group; between Dee's explosive drumming on tracks like "Burner" and the rhythmic swagger that is "I Am The Sword", you have the peak performances of any of the iterations of the four-piece line-ups. The second half of the album is not as immediately in your face but it is just as enjoyable, with tracks like the rock 'n' roll classic "Bad Woman" (with boogie woogie piano to boot) and "I'm Your Man" and its understated yet pounding stomp keeping you hooked.
The selection of Benson as producer was an astute choice, as he fully understood what sound the band needed to enhance what had to be the heaviest set of material the band had brought to the table. With Campbell and Wurzel given a razor-sharp guitar tone that adds a hell of a lot of power to tracks like "Death Or Glory", but is equally adept at the more traditional rockers like "Devils" and my personal favourite track by the band, "Born To Raise Hell". Lemmy is largely left to be himself, which is best; he needs little in the way of production other than being audible in the mix.
Even though this is the band's heaviest release, the sombre and melancholic "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me" is the best ballad the band would produce (a run that had started two albums ago on 1916) and one that shows that the band don't need to be flying at the speed of sound to get your attention. Though it does serve as the only real issue with the record, given its position in the running order, it is a quick and sharp comedown from the party anthem "Born To Raise Hell" before it before being followed up the upbeat rocker "Bad Woman". Highly recommended.
Following on in a familiar vein to Bastards before it, Sacrifice carries on the direction of turning the metal elements to eleven and producing another heavy as hell record that will assault your senses. Sacrifice was the last great album by the band for the better part of a decade and yet it remains somewhat overlooked in the grand scheme of the band's back catalogue. Serving as the swansong for Motörhead with four members, as Würzel would leave the band shortly after, it is debatable how much he contributed to the album, but luckily the album does not suffer from his lack of input, being a barnburner of a record and one of the bright spots in the mid-nineties for a rock band that formed in the seventies.
1995 - Sacrifice
1995 - Sacrifice
The overarching focus on groove throughout the album gives many of the album's tracks one hell of a hook to sit alongside their latent power, with tracks like "Over Your Shoulder" and "All Gone To Hell" having such compelling riffs they could make the dead dance. While Bastards had the power, Sacrifice has the swing that makes you get up and dance as your chest is rattled like a pneumatic drill was placed on top of it. The aforementioned two tracks, alongside the title track and "In Another Time", make up some of the most overlooked gems in the band's whole career and are criminally underrepresented on best of compilations put out over the years. If you are in search of some more unknown tracks and are hard pressed where to start digging, then might I direct you to Sacrifice; it's like striking oil and suddenly being overwhelmed by how deep and rich the well you have struck is.
The only real shortcoming with the album is the double-edged nature of the production. It ramps up the power and accentuates the rhythmic nature of the music, while lending it an atmosphere of unsettling foreboding; however, it has a strange ceiling to it that at times overdoes the effects and reverb to the album's detriment. Case in point are tracks like "War For War", featuring guitars with a strange sound that doesn't make them sound chunky and powerful, but gives them this strange sheen that doesn't allow them to hit as hard as they could.
It was with the departure of Würzel that Motörhead would return to being a trio once more and settle into what would be their most stable line-up, lasting until the passing of Lemmy twenty-five years later. Closing the door on the band as a four-piece, the band may not have experienced the highs of their earlier years, but they more importantly endured some of the lowest points of their careers before their transition into living legends a few years down the line.
|Written on 28.12.2020 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.
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