After years mucking about in local English bands like Motown Sect and the Rocking Vicars, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister (heretofore to be called simply Lemmy) roadied for an up and coming chap named Jimi Hendrix before spending four hilarious drug filled years with Hawkwind (the Hawkwind chapter in Lemmy's anecdote-filled autobiography White Line Fever literally had me laughing out loud about a dozen times). It was only after being unceremoniously fired from Hawkwind (for drugs no less! - apparently, Lemmy's crime was being the lone speed freak in a band filled with acid fried loons) that Lemmy formed the legendary Motorhead, who immediately encountered problems when the band's none-too-pleased record company (United Artists) refused to release their first album (later released as On Parole after Motorhead had established themselves and had some success with another label). Retooling the band by enlisting “Fast” Eddie Clarke on lead guitar (though in truth it is Lemmy's bass that always drives the band's music) and Phil “Philty Animal” Taylor on drums, what is now commonly referred to as "the classic Motorhead lineup" re-recorded many of the failed first album's songs for this, the band's first "proper" and supposedly superior (I've never heard On Parole) full length album. And a very solid album it is, though it's more a blueprint for even better things to come than an essential Motorhead release. Certainly "Motorhead" and "Iron Horse/Born To Lose" are considered Motorhead classics, while songs such as "Vibrator" (there's something funny about Lemmy singing "I'm a vi-vi-vi-vi-vibrator") and "Lost Johnny" ("can you find the valium"?) are but two examples of how few have lived the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll lifestyle more than Lemmy. Still, few of these songs really stand out, and there's nothing especially innovative about them, either, as most could easily be labeled "classic rock" except the band is louder, faster, and flat out uglier than anything you're likely to hear on the radio. Both punk and metal camps embraced the band's ballsy, no holds barred brand of rock 'n' roll, but Lemmy would have none of that, as then and now he catered to no camp and simply made Motorhead music, which believe me nobody else makes. But I digress; "The Watcher" has an AC/DC-ish chug and their cover of The Yardbirds' "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" even rivals Aerosmith's, while the reissue includes five very worthwhile bonus tracks, including covers of ZZ Top's "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" and John Mayall's "I'm Your Witch Doctor," as well as a bitchin' Larry Wallis (Motorhead's first guitarist) guitar solo on "On Parole," arguably the best song on the entire disc. But songs aren't really the point of the album, as they tend to blend into one another after awhile. Rather, Motorhead introduces everyone to the incredible Motorhead sound, and quite a thrilling sound it often is, though that sound and especially the band's songs would soon show a marked improvement.
Overkill (Essential '79, Metal-Is ’01) Rating: A
A very good thrash metal band was later reverently named after this album, which was an essential early Motorhead recording with several classic cuts. Vastly superior to their self-titled debut in every way, this stellar sophomore set was where Lemmy and company (with help from legendary producer Jimmy Miller) really nailed their speedy thrash attack, which pre-dated and heavily influenced grunge. The band are at their relentless best on the classic title track, which builds to an unforgettable ROAR (if the song's first 20 seconds don't completely blow you away, you are heretofore sentenced to a lifetime of listening to Barry Manilow) and which is also notable for Clarke's razor sharp guitar and two false endings. Other well-known songs include “Stay Clean” and “No Class,” which have catchy choruses and a more tuneful approach, with the latter song borrowing none too subtly (as if this band has ever had anything to do with subtlety) from ZZ Top. According to Lemmy, "we were a blues band, really, although we played it at a thousand miles per hour," and indeed the excellent “Capricorn” does offer a surprisingly bluesy respite from big time bruisers like “I’ll Be Your Sister” and the menacing “Metropolis.” Here and elsewhere Motorhead let you know exactly what to expect from them, producing an ugly yet utterly thrilling racket that’s anchored by Lemmy’s belching bass and hoarse shouts, Clarke’s furious guitar leads, and Taylor’s absolutely animalistic drum assault. Lyrically the band is equally in your face (example: “I’m gonna tear you limb from limb” on, appropriately enough, “Limb From Limb”), but a sense of humor is also in evidence, and these 10 songs (15 on the reissue) all have a great live-in-the-studio energy going for them, though the sound is undeniably samey (what were you expecting?) and the songwriting sometimes suspect. But only occasionally, as this is easily one of the band's very best albums, as for all the band's fearsome reputation they rarely sacrifice accessibility for the sake of simply making a racket. In a way, the band’s one way only, full-speed-ahead attack was kinda like the Ramones but without the bubblegum pop sense or half the critical kudos, and Motorhead’s relentless approach is likewise beloved by a few but misunderstood by most.
Bomber (Essential '79, Metal-Is ’01) Rating: B+
Indulge my laziness for a moment and allow me to quote Lemmy: "Overall, Bomber was a good record, but there's a couple of really naff tracks on it, like "Talking Head." "Bomber," "Stone Dead Forever," "All The Aces" - those were great (Scott: so is "Dead Men Tell No Tales," an anti-heroin tale; remember, speed was the drug of choice for Lemmy, who hated heroin)...Bomber was basically the transition record between Overkill and our next album, Ace Of Spades, and that was its function, really. And it peaked at No. 11 on the charts, so it got us up another notch commercially." Well said, Lemmster, and I'll add that "Sharpshooter" and "Poison" are very solid album tracks indeed, though lines like "I wish I'd poisoned my wife" likely had humorless (Lemmy has never married, for starters) feminists up in arms. Elsewhere, "Lawman" has good riffs and a solid solo from Clarke but a generic, repetitive chorus (something of a Motorhead weakness), while "Sweet Revenge" and "Step Down" both plod a bit, not generally a good thing where Motorhead is concerned, though both bear out Lemmy's assertion that Motorhead is basically an amped up blues band. Alas, Clarke sings the latter song, and not all that well, and producer Jimmy Miller (best known for his work with The Rolling Stones) was too whacked out on drugs to be of much use during the recording sessions, which perhaps had something to do with the album's overall patchiness. Still, its aforementioned highlights are all excellent, in particular "Stone Dead Forever," which rivals "Overkill" and "Ace Of Spades" as my all-time favorite Motorhead songs. Catchy, melodic, and completely ass kicking, the song's explosive finale provides the ultimate adrenaline rush from a band whose catalog is chock full of 'em.
Ace Of Spades (Roadrunner ’80, Castle Music ‘99) Rating: A
Motorhead in their unstoppable prime. To quote Clarke: “This one feels right. This album is really fast. Maybe we had some good speed.” In his liner notes to the ’99 reissue, Steffan Chirazi calls this a “dirty, greasy, beautifully impure and unholy classic.” And while cut for cut it’s no match for their later No Remorse compilation, I’d be hard pressed to argue too strenuously against the common claim that this is the band’s best studio album (though Overkill comes close). After all, it has Motorhead classics like the immortal title track (the definitive Motorhead song and the song that the band simply must play at every concert), “Live To Win” (love its deliciously dark chug), “(We Are) The Road Crew” (the ultimate song about that topic, it moved one of Motorhead’s crew members to tears; plus it rocks like a mutha), “Fire, Fire” (a fierce, underrated gem), “Jailbait” (another fun, tongue-in-cheek feminist baiter that’s quite catchy), “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch” (Lemmy: "well, it is, isn’t it? - to have a relationship is fatal to the relationship”), and “The Hammer” (which hits you with all the force of one), and the band even enjoyed a brief period of commercial (#4 in the U.K.) and critical acceptance during this time. Memorable choruses like “Love Me Like A Reptile” reveal Lemmy’s, er, unusual lyrics (“I’m gonna sink my fangs in you”), and lines like “they’re all fools to live by rules” underscore Lemmy and the gang’s allegiance to the reckless rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. However, the fact that the band can lovingly pay tribute to that lifestyle and the people who make it possible (“(We Are) The Road Crew”), while also providing mundane details about life on the road, demonstrates a depth and intelligence that goes beyond what most people are willing to give them credit for. The three bonus tracks (“Dirty Love,” the b-side of the “Ace Of Spades” single, as well as “Please Don’t Touch,” a collaboration with female rockers Girlschool on an old Johnny Kidd and the Pirates tune, and a cover of Girlshool's “Emergency,” both taken from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP) on the reissue are all aces, too, and though a few of these songs are merely solid and once again any hints of variety are nonexistent, Ace Of Spades nevertheless presents Motorhead’s classic early power trio lineup in peak form.
No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith (Roadrunner ’81, Castle Music ‘99) Rating: A
Motorhead in their unstoppable prime - live. From their vicious rendition of “Ace Of Spades” onwards, Motorhead relentlessly runs through 11 highlights from their first four studio albums, resulting in one of hard rock’s seminal live albums. It was a #1 U.K. hit, too, improbably enough, for if anything Motorhead sound nastier and more unkempt than ever, though the band’s superior energy more than overcomes whatever clarity may be lost from the original recordings (which were pretty damn dirty to begin with). This is rock ‘n’ roll brought down to its basest levels, all primal energy and unbridled passion, only intermittently interrupted so Lemmy can introduce and dedicate (to Philthy, the Hells Angels, Fast Eddie, and the road crew) the next song. There really aren’t any surprises, and it's kinda skimpy for a live album (the band didn’t have enough quality material on tape for a 4-LP set, though the reissue appends 3 rock solid bonus tracks), but some songs are clear improvements on the originals (“Iron Horse/Born To Lose” and “Motorhead,” for example), and overall this is a stunning showcase for the band’s uniquely raw blend of speed, precision, and power. If when my kids get older they ever ask me “dad, what is punk rock?” or “what is heavy metal?” or “what is thrash?” or “what is hard rock?” or “what is no-holds-barred, bullshit free rock ‘n’ roll?” (not likely, that last one), I’ll simply say “Motorhead” and put on No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith. Any more questions?
Iron Fist (Roadrunner ’82, Metal-Is ’01) Rating: B
This much-maligned album isn’t bad at all, though it was harshly received at the time since it failed to live up to the twin peaks of Spades and Hammersmith. There are some good grooves on this record, and though perhaps it’s slightly more polished (“Fast” Eddie produced it with Will Reid Dick - is that his real name?) than previous albums, this album isn’t all that different from what the band had done previously. Still, the band seems less inspired and Lemmy’s (rushed?) lyrics are a bit lazy, as Motorhead merely made a good record this time out. Certainly few will find fault with the title track, a classic thrash number, and “Heart Of Stone” is a very solid album track, Motorhead simply being Motorhead. “I’m The Doctor” is decidedly different, being less edgy than usual but also being agreeably catchy while getting better with repeat listens, unlike too many of the rest of these songs, which come and go impressively enough but fail to leave a lasting impression after the fact. Oh, the pointed lyrics of “Go To Hell” and “(Don’t Need) Religion” do make their point, and “Speedfreak” is an aptly titled song if ever there was one, but the album as a whole lacks that something extra, though the brief but blistering “Sex & Outrage” and the resilient (and Lemmy is nothing if not resilient) “(Don’t Let ‘Em) Grind You Down” are other hard rocking highlights. As you can probably tell, I’m a little conflicted about this album, which has a lot going for it (it is Motorhead, after all, therefore it rocks) but which leaves me with the feeling that it’s not all that it could’ve been. Alas, this turned out to be a historically significant album in that a subsequent recording session with the Plasmatics’ infamous Wendy O. Williams (an attempted recording of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”) turned out to be disastrous, causing Clarke to quit the band (he then formed Fastway). As such, Iron Fist was the last album from the “classic Motorhead lineup.”
Another Perfect Day (Roadrunner ’83, Metal-Is ’01) Rating: A-
Personality and image-wise, Clarke's replacement, former Thin Lizzy fret-master Brian "Robbo" Robertson, was a poor fit, from his attitude (he clearly viewed Motorhead as a temporary gig until something "better" came along) to his appearance (his short, curly red locks and colorful attire almost got him killed by Motorhead's rabid biker fan base). However, he plays his ass off on his lone album with Motorhead, on which he was no mere sideman, as Lemmy himself noted: "Another Perfect Day shows a lot of Brian's influence, which musically wasn't a bad thing. Even the producer, Tony Platt, was Brian's boy, but he did a very good job so I have no complaints about that. The only thing I didn't like about the record was there was a bit too much guitar - some of those solos didn't have to be that long, God knows! But other than that, I thought it was excellent." I agree that Brian goes overboard on the solos a bit, but I also agree with Lemmy that this is an excellent album, and that the cries of "sellout" that initially greeted it were unfair (as is often the case). Of course a more technically proficient and melodically inclined guitar player resulted in a more professional, cleaner sound, but believe me the band's bottom end still brings it big time on blazers like "Back At The Funny Farm" (as usual, the leadoff track simply smokes) and the superb, groove heavy "Shine." The also great "Dancing On Your Grave" is more obviously "accessible," but its chorus of "I'll be dancing on your grave" didn't find its way onto too many radio playlists, while Robbo's interjections really elevate "Rock It," which chugs along nicely even without Robbo's help. "One Track Mind" is a slow grinder, and I daresay the title track integrates a nifty little bridge, demonstrating the band's increased experimentation and musicality. Don't get me wrong, aside from having a big time guitar hero on board they don't veer too far from what they do best (they never do, after all), but this is among the band's most consistent albums, containing many tracks that could be called highlights, including the melodic yet slammin' single "I Got Mine" and the pointedly explosive "Die You Bastard." Unfortunately, this fascinating incarnation of Motorhead would last for but this lone album, as Robbo's high maintenance ways irritated Lemmy to no end (it is his band, after all). As any Thin Lizzy fan could tell you, the guy could really play, though, and Another Perfect Day is arguably Motorhead's most underrated album, and there's no other Motorhead album quite like it.
No Remorse (Castle Music ’84, '99) Rating: A
According to Lemmy Kilmister, longtime leader of Motorhead: “if we moved next door your lawn would die.” And though Lemmy’s “gargled with glass” shouting style is as un-pretty as the huge warts on his face, these guys rock so consistently hard that I can’t help but be consistently blown away by them. I suppose the old saying “if you only have room for one album…” would have to apply to No Remorse for Motorhead, since it’s a killer compilation that contains many of the band’s best songs (amid only a few questionable selections and omissions). Motorhead’s thrash style was a key link between punk and metal (as previously mentioned, they were the rare band who appealed to both camps), and their fast, ferocious style upped the stakes for all who followed. Tongue in cheek lyrics like “you’re jailbait, and I just can’t wait” and song titles such as “Dancing On Your Grave” will either amuse or outrage you - if it’s the latter, then Motorhead is definitely not for you. But these guys aren’t exactly trying to be Bob Dylan (though, again as previously mentioned, their intelligence is often underrated), and this 2-cd, 24-track (29 on the reissue) compilation captures early Motorhead in all their grimy glory as they relentlessly pursued their very own perfectly imperfect sound. In addition to culling together most of their very best songs, sometimes in superior live renditions, the inclusion of several choice rarities (which are admittedly less rare today since many of them have been appended as bonus tracks to the reissued original albums) and four really good new songs (“Snaggletooth,” “Steal Your Face,” “Locomotive,” and the immortal “Killed By Death,” all recorded with new guitarists Phil Campbell and Mick "Wurzel" Burston, as well as with new drummer Pete Gill, who replaced "Philthy" when the latter left after Another Perfect Day) makes this collection invaluable even to big fans of the band who already own all their previous albums. It has one of the best of Motorhead's many cool "scary" album covers, too; one of my proudest moments as a father came when I was in Tower Records with my 3 year old son and he pointed to Motorhead's box set, Stone Deaf Forever, and said "daddy, get that one." But back to these reviews and this band. Yeah, Motorhead can make Kiss look subtle, and the Ramones had more variety, but there’s a reason that bands such as Metallica cut their teeth on this stuff. Billed as “the ultimate Motorhead,” No Remorse is pretty much just that, and in many ways it works as a perfect summation of the early years while closing the book on the band's first chapter. However, with a retooled band in tow, Lemmy and company were far from finished (even if these reviews are for the time being). P.S. I've already spoken about Motorhead's "classic lineup" but I want to mention their latest one as well. Guitarist Phil Campbell has been providing steady service since 1984, while drummer Mikkey Dee joined in 1992. I've seen these guys live four times and they never fail to deliver the goods, and Dee in particular is simply the best drummer I've ever seen live; Lemmy quite possibly correctly always introduces him as "the best drummer in the world!!!" So props are due to these guys too.
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