So no foolin’, I really have been in the process of reviewing this album since it came out in August, and it really is taking its turn in the queue. This isn’t like when I reviewed Ornette Coleman because he died, here I’m reviewing Motörhead despite Lemmy’s very recent passing.
However, this is like Ornette Coleman in that I’m reviewing an artist I was only barely familiar with. Beyond “Ace Of Spades,” I’d never really given Motörhead much of a chance, and I don’t think I can name a single song by Hawkwind, the band Lemmy was in prior to Motörhead. And, given my affection for “Ace Of Spades,” why I never dug deeper is hard to say. It’s probably a combination of MTV only ever playing “Ace Of Spades” since, well, Motörhead wasn’t very pretty and it was the 80’s and them just never rising up high enough on my radar to dig until this summer.
I think I might have been a bit turned off by their unabashed embrace of metal, exemplified above with the umlaut in their name. I mean, I am a child of the early 90’s, when anything sincere and everything metal was all uncool, so a sincere embrace of what, at the time, was an overplayed aesthetic, lumped them into a camp I spent a lot of time distancing myself from.
But I think the intervening decades have taught us that, while that aesthetic got worn out by kitsch, the true believers have stoked the embers of what made the aesthetic awesome in the first place and, you know, it still kicks ass.
And kick ass with a straightforward 80’s punk-metal album is what Motörhead does on this record. What’s most amazing about this slab of energetic rock is not just that it sounds like it was made by metal wizards 50 years younger than they are (Lemmy’s tired but still awesome growling voice excepted), but that Lemmy was literally fucking dying when he made it. Based on the reports of how extensive his cancer was when they found it on Saturday, it had clearly been spreading into his bones and brain for a while. In an era where auto-tune and mopey millenial hipsters dominate what’s cool in music a 69-year-old who’s too fucking rock and roll to know he’s on his deathbed released one of the best albums of the year.
It’s been interesting to hear all the praise for Lemmy and his career this week because (i) when this album was released most of the reviews were “Meh, it’s just Motörhead doing their template thing” (I missed that Stereogum’s Worst to First ranking had it at their fourth-best album(!)), and (ii) it made like nobody’s year-end best of lists.
I get it, kind of. I’ve even been tempted to bump this up a half-clown the last few days. But, despite me growing more fond of the record over the last few days (which I mostly attribute to an increase in the listens I gave it since its time was coming), this has been on the path to a four-clown review basically since I started listening to it. From the opening thrash of “Victory Or Die” to the bluesy solo of “Fire Storm Hotel” (the guitar seems to be more prominent here than obituaries of bassist Lemmy indicate are typical of the band’s sound), the band is absolutely fierce. From the dark, brooding evil of “The Devil,” “”Evil Eye,” and an awesome cover of “Sympathy For The Devil” to the alien apocalypse of “Choking On Your Screams” to the reflective look at life and death of “Till The End,” Lemmy ended his career as a true successor to Johnny Cash’s reborn godfather Man In Black archetype. It’s fitting for two flawed men possessed by the spirit and the power of rock and roll from their earliest days right up until the day they died.
R.I.P. Lemmy. You gave more in your last six months than most give in their career. Thanks for leaving it all in the studio and on the stage for us. The Jack’s on me if we ever meet.
Mix: “Shoot Out All Of Your Lights,” “Sympathy For The Devil”
Love: “The Devil”
Really Like: “Thunder And Lightning,” “Fire Storm Hotel,” “Till The End”
Like: “Victory Or Die,” “Electricity,” “Evil Eye”,” “Teach Them How To Bleed,” “Tell Me Who To Kill,” “Choking On Your Screams,” “When The Sky Comes Looking For You”
Song Notes: After the jump
- Victory Or Die –
- Thunder & Lightning – starts a bit like “Ace Of Spades”. I don’t understand the lyric “You’ll get no pussy if you’re in a band”
- Fire Storm Hotel – love the bluesy solo. Story is spirits and ghosts burning up a hotel.
- Shoot Out All Of Your Lights – it’s like a mashup of Metallica’s “Hit The Lights,” “Creeping Death,” and a rockabilly song
- The Devil –
- Electricity –
- Evil Eye
- Teach Them How To Bleed – the worst one, just not fully realized, but I still like it quite a bit
- Till The End – the ballad, as it were
- Tell Me Who To Kill –
- Choking On Your Screams – at least literally about an alien race coming to destroy us.
- When The Sky Comes Looking For You – Rolling Stone reported this was the only song off this album that they ever played live, which seems crazy since they did an entire tour supporting it, but tevs.
- Sympathy For The Devil – Easily my favorite Stones song (partially because it doesn’t sound like a Stones song) and they fucking nail this cover.