The original members of Motley Crue - lead singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx, lead guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee - spent much of the Reagan era wasted on drugs and alcohol and partying with groupies around the world. The wild times were funneled into the music, producing some of the most enduring hits in heavy metal: "Live Wire," "Dr. Feelgood," "Girls, Girls, Girls" and one of the genre's best ballads, "Home Sweet Home."
At this point in the band's career, after more than 25 years of storied decadence on and off the stage, the hard-living image has long eclipsed the music. Though strong in spots, the new album is nothing more than a musical tribute to the group's hedonistic past. And that was best chronicled in The Dirt, the band's 2001 best-selling tell-all.
In a time fraught with demoralizing news about a wobbly economy and record job losses, the bristly yet accessible rock of Motley Crue is pure escapism. The spectacle of the expletive-littered shows (the glam get-ups, theatrical makeup and spiky hair) is pure nostalgia for fans saddled with 9-to-5 blues and grown-up responsibilities.
"It's less about Motley's music, although much of their classic catalog still holds up very well, and more about how Motley Crue just epitomizes the ultimate decadent rock band," says Lyndsey Parker, managing editor at Yahoo Music. "No current group even comes close to being such an utter embodiment of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."
On the Saints of Los Angeles tour, which kicked off early last month in San Diego, old fans are introducing their children to the "Crue experience."
"Going to see the Crue is an opportunity to be young and free again and let loose for a couple of hours," says John Page, operating officer of Global Spectrum. The company manages the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, and the UCF Arena in Orlando, Fla., two early stops on the band's tour. "We saw three generations of fans - a lot of parents with their teenage kids showing them what it was like. ... The music inspires fans to raise their fists, pump them in the air and scream those lyrics you remember from high school."
Similar bands that were hot during Motley Crue's halcyon days in the '80s have long changed, and not necessarily for the better. Bon Jovi, for instance, has become overly polished and downright boring, while Guns 'N Roses is an artistic mess and irrelevant.
Granted, Motley Crue's image of debauchery has long become caricature. The guys are in or near their 50s (Mars is the oldest at 57) and have been sober for several years. Yet, as heard on much of Saints of Los Angeles, the band can still invigorate the music with the sleaze, angst and vinegar that emboldened the classic work. The new songs are a close approximation of the old fiery spirit, but nothing quite achieves the musical transcendency of past Crue efforts.
Save for perhaps U2, "there are few '80s artists of any genre putting out current music that's as popular as their classic material," says Parker of Yahoo. "It's unfortunate that Motley Crue's newer material is not up to par with the songs they put out between the albums Too Fast For Love and Dr. Feelgood, but they should be proud of what they accomplished during their first decade."
And they are. The set list for the current tour is heavy with old hits, some of which have become transcendent classics adaptable to other genres. Country-pop star Carrie Underwood will be remaking "Home Sweet Home" as the official goodbye song for the current season of American Idol.
The old Crue hits have also inspired new bands such as the Last Vegas, whose thrashing glam-rock approach is reminiscent of early Crue. In November, the Chicago group won the Guitar Center On-Stage competition and scored, among other things, a recording contract and an opening slot on the Saints of Los Angeles tour. Crue's Sixx is one of the producers on the Last Vegas' debut, tentatively titled Whatever Gets You Off, in stores next month.
"Crue had a pretty profound influence on us," says guitarist Johnny Wator. The music "is aggressive and it's real. There's no holding back. There were a lot of bands out there that were for show, but Motley Crue was the real thing."
The Last Vegas doesn't imitate the hard living that has become such a big part of Crue's legacy. But the music remains exciting, Wator says.
Besides, the turbulent economic climate is ripe for a return to the kind of let-it-all-go rock Motley Crue embodies.
"It's been a long eight years. People are tired of being beat-down and broke," Wator says. "People need this kind of rock 'n' roll now."
if you goSee Motley Crue at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Tickets are $27.50-$93 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-7328 or going to ticketmaster.com.
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