By Adrien Begrand
The early Motörhead catalog has been reissued, repackaged, and overhauled so many times over the years, that it can get downright confusing, but the folks at Sanctuary Records got it right in 2005 when they reissued the band’s seminal first four albums and the 1984 compilation No Remorse in newly expanded, two-disc versions, as well as the BBC Live and In-Session collection. Presented in snazzy slipcases, with full artwork, photos, and excellent liner notes, it was at long last the perfect way to pay tribute to one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll bands in history. Sanctuary is obviously aware they’ve got a good thing going, because we now have three more additions to the expanded edition lineup, only this time, we get three of the most underrated albums in the Motörhead catalog, titles that may have been swept under the rug by critics when they first came out, but which are fully deserving of our attention today.
When we last left you, it was 1982, and Motörhead was at their commercial peak. 1980’s Ace of Spades broke the band in a huge way in the UK, the live album No Sleep Till Hammersmith had debuted at number one in the UK a year later, and the 1982 follow-up Iron Fist reached number six. Despite all the fame and accolades, the trio of bassist/vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke, and drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor had churned out a grueling seven albums in six years, had toured relentlessly, sounded dog-tired on Iron Fist, and achieved little more than cult status in America. After touring in support of Iron Fist, Clarke grew frustrated with the band’s musical direction and left soon after to form his own band with former UFO bassist Pete Way (the aptly named Fastway would enjoy a short, yet respectable run in the 80s), so it was up to Lemmy to decide which direction to head in next, and the end result would flummox fans, incite a harsh critical backlash, and yield, ironically, one of the very best albums in the vast Motörhead discography.
Guitarist Brian Robertson was a very well-known musician in the UK in the late-70s, having played a key role on Thin Lizzy’s classic albums Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, and Bad Reputation, helping create the band’s signature dual guitar harmonies with fellow guitarist Scott Gorham. When he was asked by Lemmy to play on a brief tour as Clark’s replacement, Robertson had never heard a Motörhead record before, but his own distinct, polished style was just the kind of change the band was looking for. Regarded by many as a loose cannon at the time (he’d just been kicked out of Wild Horses, by the musicians he’d hired), Robertson was eleven years Kilmister’s junior and intent on avoiding the straightforward, propulsive riffing of Clark in favor of much more nuanced, nimble performances, in turn forcing his bandmates to adapt, which makes the 1983 album Another Perfect Day such a unique piece of work.
This certainly ain’t your usual Motörhead album, which becomes apparent six seconds into the opening cut “Back at the Funny Farm”: Lemmy starts hammering away a distorted bassline as only Lemmy can do, but from out of nowhere, in comes Robertson with a note progression that’s more a melody than a riff. As the song launches into a trademark double-time pace, Robertson offsets his chugging chords with similar melodic flourishes, not to mention a pair of ripping solos that Clark could never pull off. Robertson contributes a strong blues rock feel on the boogie-woogie inspired “Shine”, while “One Track Mind” has the band venturing into uncharted territory, that being the extended blooze jam. The title track is a great example of how Robertson’s textured style required Taylor to make an adjustment to his drumming; instead of going full speed ahead at all times, Taylor provides some of his best percussion work, punctuating the solos with smooth fills, and creating a more easygoing, swinging rhythm as opposed to his previous displays of brute force. Two songs stand out above all the others, as “Dancing on Your Grave” is highlighted by Robertson’s chiming intro and Lemmy’s startlingly melodic bassline, and “I Got Mine” contains some brilliant interplay between Robertson’s guitar work and Lemmy’s bilious vocals. Slickly produced by Tony Platt, it remains a personal favorite of Lemmy’s, as “Dancing on Your Grave” and “I Got Mine” were both dusted off on the band’s 30th anniversary tour in 2005.
Of special note is the bonus CD, which is easily the best bonus disc among the seven re-released albums. A complete set recorded in Manchester in 1983, it’s an ultra-rare glimpse at the band’s Another Perfect Day incarnation, featuring a set that’s every bit as surreal in song choices as it is superbly performed. Robertson flatly refused to perform classic Motörhead tracks like “Ace of Spades”, “Overkill”, and “Bomber” (insisting on a bizarre cover of “Hoochie Coochie Man” instead), and what we get is a set consisting primarily of selections from Another Perfect Day and Iron Fist, featuring a searing performance by the band, especially Robertson, who adds enough muscle to his already versatile sound to make it Motörhead-worthy, to both the new material and older chestnuts like “Heart of Stone” and “Iron Horse”. His take on the one classic tune, “The Chase is Better Than the Catch”, is one the fans will find especially fascinating.
However, Robertson’s involvement with Motörhead was very short-lived. The fans revolted, and the short-haired Robertson didn’t do himself any favors, not only with his refusal to play older material, but also his fashion sense, which involved such accoutrements as headbands, baggy pants, and leg warmers, making for an uncomfortable contrast from Lemmy’s jeans, Iron Cross, and bullet belt. In the years following his early 1984 firing, Another Perfect Day became a forgotten Motörhead record, but much like Black Sabbath’s 1983 album Born Again has found an audience two decades later, so has this album, and this new reissue is an absolute must-own.
With Robertson now out of the picture, it was time for the band to find yet another replacement, but on the day they were to start auditioning guitarists, Taylor announced he was leaving Motörhead to start a new band with bassist Chris Glenn, formerly of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, leaving Lemmy the sole remaining member. The hardened warrior he is, though, he dusted himself off, and proceeded to overhaul the band’s lineup, coming up with not one, but two replacement guitarists in ex-Persian Risk axeman Phil Campbell and madman Michael Burston, who went by the name Wurzel, in addition to a superb new drummer in Pete Gill, formerly of Saxon. As a bit of a tune-up, the newly-formed quartet recorded four new tracks for the 1984 No Remorse compilation, and proved to one and all they were back in business, big time, thanks in large part to the timeless “Killed By Death”, which became an instant 80s metal classic. Lemmy had a perfect combination of intensity and chops backing him up, the new material had won back the fans, and performing was fun again. Now all that was needed was a producer for the big comeback album. Not only would the new producer make for one of the more bizarre collaborations in metal history, but it would yield an absolute stunner of a record.
Prior to 1986, American Bill Laswell was best known for his avant-garde project Material, having co-written and produced Herbie Hancock’s cutting-edge single “Rockit”, and worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Mick Jagger, and Public Image, Ltd. The fact that such an undeniably cool producer would work with a heavy metal band was unthinkable at the time (Rick Rubin would follow suit right around the same time, producing Slayer’s Reign in Blood), and the sound of 1986’s Orgasmatron would definitely raise a few eyebrows as well.
Not so much lacquered with a mid-80s metal sheen as built up to resemble the most massive modern metal juggernaut ever, Orgasmatron effectively blends spacious, booming production with the band’s trademark grit, and make no mistake about it, the sucker still sounds huge. Gill’s tom toms thunder away and his snare sounds downright metallic during the opening bars of “Deaf Forever”, as Lemmy’s authoritative bellows are punctuated by faux-industrial roars, both guitars pushed back slightly in the mix, eschewing finesse in favor of pure muscle, making for a very dense tone. The thrashing “Mean Machine” is propelled by an unrelenting tempo by Gill, underscored by Campbell’s subtle lead fills that offset the hyperkinetic energy, while “Built For Speed” boasts a punchy, descending riff not unlike the LA metal of the time. The band saves their best for last, though, first with the insanely catchy rave-up “Doctor Rock”, and then with the most shocking revelation on the album, that being the monolithic title track. Constructed around a simple, repeated riff, Laswell takes the helm completely, steering the song right off the road and down into the bowels of Hell, ingeniously combining atmosphere and blunt power as Lemmy sermonizes in his greatest vocal performance to date: “Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown / For I am Mars, the god of war, and I will cut you down.”
The accompanying bonus disc features two B-sides, the best of which being the cruising live performance of “On the Road” (an early version of “Built For Speed”, which fellow oldsters will remember being on the 1986 Hear ‘N’ Aid charity album). The real keeper, though, is the band’s infamous performance at Kerrang! magazine’s ”Wooargh Weekender”, recorded at an English resort during the summer of 1984. An absolutely torrid set showcasing the quartet at their best, the band tears through song after song with reckless abandon, Iron Fist’s “Heart of Stone” sounding like it was injected with the same kind of amphetamine from which Motörhead’s name is derived, future Orgasmatron track “Nothing up My Sleeve” making an impressive debut, and a certifiably insane run-through of “Overkill” bring ing it all to a rousing conclusion. Roughly recorded, sloppily mixed, it nonetheless is an appropriate snapshot of this short-lived chapter of the band’s history.
More changes in the Motörhead lineup would follow in 1987. Simply put, Gill left, and Philthy came back. Taylor’s post-Motörhead project was a complete flop, and after asking Lemmy for his old job back he was allowed another chance, but despite the energy of the resulting album, the magic seemed to be missing, as Lemmy’s songwriting started to scrape the bottom of the well, Taylor’s drumming was at times painfully uninspired, and Guy Bidmead’s production comes off as too tinny, burying Campbell and Wurzel’s guitars even deeper into the mix than Laswell did a year earlier. Still, for what it’s worth, Rock ‘N’ Roll has its share of moments. The single “Eat the Rich” (taken from the 1987 movie of the same name, in which Lemmy made his acting debut) is a snappy boogie tune that features some of Lemmy’s silliest lines to date (”Sittin’ here in a hired tuxedo / You wanna see my bacon torpedo!”), while “Stone Deaf in the USA” and “Dogs” successfully hearken back to the band’s late-70s sound. “The Wolf” is preceded by a humorous monologue by Monty Python alum Michael Palin, but the real surprise is “All For You”, which not only sounds like a leftover from Another Perfect Day, but boasts a startlingly melodic, dare I say tender chorus that manages to sound sincere, not just tacked on.
Like the expanded edition of Iron Fist, though, Rock ‘N’ Roll is redeemed by its second disc. Motörhead’s best B-side since “Too Late Too Late”, “Just ‘Cos You’ve Got the Power” is a massive, seven minute blues barnburner that, unlike the album, allows the guitars to dominate, as Campbell lets loose some of his best solo fills with the band. The live set that follows is a solid performance at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in the summer of 1986 by the Lemmy/Campbell/Wurzel/Gill lineup that, while lacking the ferocity and intimacy of the “Wooargh Weekender” performance two years earlier, is a well-recorded document of the band playing for tens of thousands of adoring punters.
After Rock ‘N’ Roll, it would be another four years before we would hear new music from Lemmy and his boys, but after the tepid reaction their 1987 album received, they would rebound in a huge way in 1991 with 1916, their first album for a major label. One of the most consistently reliable bands in rock history, it’s no surprise Motörhead has lasted more than three decades now, and in fact, a new album is due later this year. Until then, there’s no better time than now to either reminisce, or discover for the first time, Motörhead’s top-notch early catalog, as Sanctuary continue to outdo themselves, providing fans old and new definitive glimpses of the band’s first dozen years.
Originally published by Static Multimedia in 2005.