A mere week after Judas Priest single-handedly restored my faith in the power of metal, Motley Crue, a band quite reasonably left for dead on the grunge heap of 80s rock, has released a masterpiece of its own, the shockingly perfect Saints of Los Angeles. You heard me. While breaking no new ground, confounding no expectations, and reinventing no wheels of even the most rudimentary sort, it also happens to channel everything we’ve ever come to love about the nasty side of the Reagan revolution, up to and including a fanatical disdain for the fairer sex usually reserved for the hardened heart of the Latino male. Or the Russian. In fact, the Crue’s cheerful misogyny is just about the sole guiding theme of the piece, which means that over the course of the album, women are referred to as whores, gold-digging whores, hoochies, pussy, and S&M slaves. When they are named at all, only “Suzy” is granted any status, proving conclusively that the moniker, while not existing in real life, will always manage to make its way onto a rock album. Even here, the bitch is reduced to biting bedposts and grinding for her man. It stands to reason that Vince met her at Marilyn Monroe’s gravesite. By turns, the women of Motley Crue are doing lines, inhaling cock, sprawled out on their backs, or simply passed out, reeking of cheap wine. And why not? As our masters of wordplay so eloquently put it on one of the CD’s juicier cuts, “This ain’t a love song, this is a fuck song.” And after such babe-friendly dreck as Dr. Feelgood’s “Without You,” it’s good to see the L.A. bad boys are back on sure footing.
Simply put, this is the band’s finest effort since Shout at the Devil, and how better to tip one’s cap to that milestone release than with an opening drone cut from the cloth of “In the Beginning?” Called “L.A.M.F.,” the brooding monologue is laughably pretentious, intoning grave imagery to set the overall mood. “Some will hit their knees in a rancid act of desperation,” our narrator bellows, “While others search for a hopeless god to save them.” You are about to enter hell, it would seem, only this hell is likely the most enjoyable place on earth. Interviews with the band have revealed that Saints of Los Angeles is based on their tell-all tome, The Dirt (easily the best book about the rock n’ roll lifestyle ever written), and as such it’s an aural portrait of the entire decade of greed. There are no apologies, no regrets, and at no point do we sense that they’d change a thing about their ascent to the pinnacle of the rock world. These are four painfully unreflective men; drunks, brutes, lunatics, and sleaze merchants, and thankfully, they avoid the traps that doom all too many bands who try to recapture the public’s attention after a decade in the wilderness. Rather than reinvention, they cheerfully reiterate past wrongs, ensuring maximum pleasure for those who spent hours curled up next to a battered boom box with their sister’s cracked cassette tapes. If Shout was an act of defiance in an age where anything hinting at “the devil” was verboten (even if Crue’s trip to the dark side was more about lipstick than LaVey), the ribald sexism of Saints dares you to ignore Hillary Clinton’s near-miss of a campaign and long for the simpler, bigger-chested days of yore.
Memory lane is served up with great helpings of a besotted hindsight, and the track “Down at the Whisky” is as good as it gets along these lines. “Runaways in a van, all go straight to Hollywood,” Vince begins, speaking one of the decade’s most essential truths. This was a time for pipe dreams; a telling contrast to our own era, when believing in a future is all but a quaint notion. “Do you remember when?”, it continues, “We were on the run…Got loaded like a shotgun…Living our dreams…Down at the Whisky.” Sure, L.A. has bestowed more small fortunes on the undeserving than any other city in the world, but in the case of the Crue, the fame was well-earned. This is a band we all know and love, even through the difficult Theatre of Pain period where glam seemed to push rock’s hard edge to the sidelines. Curiously, all of this gin-soaked reminiscing fails to mention Nikki’s brief death via the overdose cliché, nor does it tackle Vince’s drunken ride to the liquor store that cost Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle his life. But that’s, like, depressing, man; too real for a record that traffics so heavily in unadulterated pleasure. Sure, some died or never recovered from the era’s indulgences, but that’s for the historians. I choose to believe the rocker’s side of the story and the myth that scrapes and bruises aside, no one ever really got hurt. If even so much as a genital wart makes its way into the narrative, it will likely be blamed on a woman, and quickly forgotten with the morning’s sunrise. Assuming they didn’t sleep right through it, of course.
Another standout is the unambiguously titled “Chicks = Trouble,” which is as close to a mantra as we’re likely to get. “I really thought that pussy was gold,” is clearly the everyman’s lament, and enough to bring about a rage that eventually turns to laughter. Of course the dumb bitch loved me for my money. What else could she do? “My balls are deep in debt,” is the next plea for sanity, and it won’t ever be found until the skirt is thrown off the tour bus for good. Yeah, the song is obviously a Pamela Anderson kiss-off (“They never said I could catch this from a center fold”), but the song is an instant excuse for any guy who hasn’t the patience to find the real explanation for love’s slow fade. The natural transition is to “The Animal in Me,” which is as close to a power ballad as the disc gets, which is still far enough to keep the purity intact. “I wanna be your last breath before we suffocate,” sounds morbid on its face, but for the Crue, it’s simply another side of the sexual coin, where the boredom of the assembly line necessitates gearing up for angry, dangerous love. After all, if she’s not fetching you a beer, the least she can do is get bound and gagged. And then on to “Just Another Psycho,” where “doctor” and “shocker” are rhymed with effortless bravado, and a man is compelled to say, “I don’t need a reason to hurt you just for fun.” Being retrograde never felt so good.
Everywhere else, from “What’s it Gonna Take” to “Face Down in the Dirt,” the band is rising, falling, and pushing the limits, all in service of the rock god. They crave fame, sure, but it just might be about the music. No one believes it, of course, but it’s the illusion of artistic sacrifice that keeps the lines long and the one-way bus tickets flying out the door. “I wanna make a lot of money, but I don’t wanna go to school” helps crank up “Dirt,” much like a middle finger to the principal, or a stiff upper lip in the face of dad’s curfew. And when it continues with, “I’d rather be face down in the dirt with a bullet in my head,” Vince speaks to the fear of anonymity that has choked many a wannabe along rock’s highway. “I wanna take on the world…I wanna bang a million girls…I don’t wanna wear a three-piece suit…I don’t wanna be you.” You, of course, being me, or anyone of the sort. And for good reason. Again, don’t buy that shit about “the life” being empty and cruel. For the life of me, I can’t think of a downside to endless blowjobs, adulation, and, as another song states, having chicks pay your rent. Even six months of such madness would be worth the AIDS virus. Depending on my mood, I may even bargain down to a week. Truth is found in liner notes, not the endless warnings spoon fed by jealous, crestfallen elders.
Lyrics and celebratory irresponsibility aside, this is ballsy music the way it’s meant to be done. And while I’ll let fools and fanatics debate the relative merits of Tommy Lee’s drumming or the licks of resident leper Mick Mars, I can say that from where I sit in the fan’s peanut gallery, these gents have never sounded better or more confident. Every instrument pulsates with phallic wonder, and no song ever overstays its welcome. Solos are piercing and jolting, but never self-indulgent, and Lee, as always, is a proud, aggressive stick man. I don’t care whether or not he can hang with jazz giants or rock’s statesmen; this fucker perfected the tit-cam, which rivals the Jarvik heart as the era’s greatest scientific wonder. And at the end of the day, they survived. And they’re back. And I’m in love again.