Graded on a Curve: Mötley Crüe,
Dr. Feelgood

Celebrating Tommy Lee on his 60th birthday.Ed.

When the news circulated about my sex tape with Pamela Anderson I went into a panic. What would my mother think? Then it came out that the sex tape in question featured Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Not so my mom. She called me in a huff and said “Here’s your chance to make something of yourself and you blow it. How am I going to face the ladies at my bridge club? Did you even have sex with the woman?” “I don’t think so,” I admitted. “I fell asleep while watching Baywatch and one thing led to another.”

Critics have been sniping at Mötley Crüe for decades. In a review of 1984’s Shout at the Devil the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau wrote “It’s hardly news that this platinum product is utter dogshit even by heavy metal standards,” but then Christgau’s an elitist and hates Guns N’ Roses too. God knows it’s easy to mock Mötley Crüe, both for their brand of hair metal and their fashion sense; their hair spray budget come the release of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood was $98,000 per week, and they were responsible for one-quarter of the world’s spandex sales. Without Mötley Crüe, many of Peru’s spandex farmers would have starved.

The important question when it comes to Dr. Feelgood is simple: Does it have a reason to exist? I would say yes. Vince Neil (vocals), Mick Mars (lead guitars), Nikki Sixx (bass and keyboards), and the aforementioned Tommy Lee collectively have the intelligence of a Cuban water rat, and their misogyny grows tiresome very quickly, but there’s no question they’re a top notch metal band. And a few of the songs on Dr. Feelgood—their first LP after being weaned from every mind-altering substance on planet Earth, as well as several they had to have shipped in special delivery from other regions of the galaxy—are well worth owning.

Scoffers will point out that Mötley Crüe’s music is for dumb teens and albums like Dr. Feelgood would soon be cast into eternal darkness by the advent of Soundgarden and Nirvana. To which I would point out that teens aren’t dumb and some stayed true to their school because hair metal offered them something grunge never could—pure tacky glamor. And let’s not forget sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The Nirvana story is interesting, but it doesn’t include chugging bottles of Jack Daniels while snorting coke off the breasts of groupies in the sleazier environs of the Sunset Strip. Mötley Crüe fans didn’t want to look like unemployed lumberjacks. They wanted what Mötley Crüe had. Particularly the coke and the breasts.

On the best tracks of Dr. Feelgood, Mötley Crüe sounds like a cross between Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses. On the title track Mars plays big Jimmy Page hooks while Tommy Lee—who sextracurricular activities aside is the hardest hitting drummer to come along since the late John Bonham—brings the sticks down like hammers on an anvil. Vince Neil may be a second-rate Axl Rose but it doesn’t much matter—”Dr. Feelgood” still tramples you underfoot.

The catchy “Kickstart My Heart” opens with Mars doing a pretty good imitation of a drag racer, segues into a very Led Zeppelin rip, then kicks into overdrive. Again Lee does the dreadnaught stomp, while the backup shouts will have you shouting along. Neil’s spoken word break in the middle (“When we started this band/All we needed, needed was a laugh/Years gone by…I’d say we’ve kicked some ass”) is also a nice touch.

The excellent “Sticky Sweet” also has echoes of Led Zep. Neil should work on his Robert Plant imitation, but Mars’ massive guitar hook and the rhythm section’s scrap yard car crusher bottom save the day. “Sticky Sweet” is Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in reverse, and both have their origins in the bubblegum music of the 1960s, lending credence to the argument that all rock music owes its existence to the Archies.

The winners list also includes “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” on which the band employs a somewhat lighter touch. This one comes out ahead on catchy melody alone—it could almost be a Bon Jovi confection. It shows another side of Mötley Crüe, and while it doesn’t play to the band’s strengths, songs like it could broaden their audience appeal.

The remaining songs vary from the so-so to the godawful. Without strong tunes Neil’s wretched lyrics stand shivering in the rain, Tommy Lee can slam the drums until they charge him with assault and battery, and Mars may as well put down his guitar and sell enchiladas door to door, which used to be a real thing. Mars could bring it back.

“Slice of Pie” opens with a slide guitar and features pile-driver drumming, but the melody’s generic stuff and the title tells you everything you need to know about the subject matter. “Rattlesnake Shake” is a boogie that heads straight into Aerosmith territory, where it does a lot of rattling but has no bite. “She Goes Down” opens with a fart, engages in some lame Steven Tyler wordplay, and in general gives fellatio a bad name. The chorus of “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” sounds just fine, but the verses founder, and let’s hope that S.O.S. is going out not to the audience but the Coast Guard.

The two remaining songs are hair metal comb-overs. The best that can be said of the ghastly power ballad “Without You” is the band doesn’t go all soft and gooey—ballad it is, but it still has a modicum of crunch. Dr. Feelgood’s nadir by a long shot is “Time for Change,” an inspirational ballad that includes lines like “I see the future in the hands of our youth” and my personal favorite “I heard some kids telling me/How they’ve lost all the faith, in the way/They’ve been talking world peace/And the wars in the streets.” One can only applaud Mötley Crüe’s concern for America’s young people and their worries about the future of our planet, but let’s face it—songs about the future of our planet always suck.

Mötley Crüe is fated to be a crack band with a paucity of great songs, and as Dr. Feelgood demonstrates that’s not enough to achieve world peace or end fighting in the streets. But it’s a mistake to write them off as mediocrities. Four very good songs on one album ain’t bad, and another one or two would have made Dr. Feelgood a contender. My Pamela Anderson sex tape may have been a fraud, but Mötley Crüe isn’t.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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