Saturday, August 30, 2008

Old Is New . . .

As many of you know, hard rock & metal both are at the headwaters of my own musical style. This past summer, four of my favorite hard rock bands from the 1980's released new albums: Motley Crue; Def Leppard; Whitesnake; and Judas Priest. Having now rocked these CD's through the summer, I thought it'd be fun to kick 'em into the mix here at the Tone Farm, in the hopes that they might also re-charge your engines - as they did mine.

Starting things off is a double-wallop featuring none other than the Kings of 80's glam metal, the one and only Motley Crue. Penning the review for Saints of Los Angeles, his first for the Tone Farm, is my friend and life-long Crue fan James Reetz. Over the past nine or so years, James has introduced me to a number of very "interesting" bands - many of which are in the darker, more industrial vein of hard rock. Let me just say that there are some very cool things happening tone-wise in this somewhat "unchartered" territory of rock music. Seeing also that Mr. Reetz' writing skills may be under-utilized, I may tap him again later this fall for a review of the latest Clutch CD, which in my honest opinion, has some of the most amazingingly creative hard rock guitar work I've heard in years.

In honor of "Public Enemy #1" being the very first song I learned front-to-back on guitar (*sigh* - seems like yesterday), I thought I'd write a bit about the man behind those searing licks - lead guitarist Mick Mars. Say what you want about Mars - if anything, he has endured 20+ years of reckless, rock n' roll abandon very gracefully - and continues to forge his craft in a most convincing fashion. Tone-wise, I don't think I've heard a better live hard rock guitar sound than what he laid down on the Crue's "Carnival of Sins" concert DVD.

So break out the Aqua Net and Schlitz Malt Liquor 16 oz. pounders - - it's time to get CRAAAZZZEEEEE!! - - J.

Say Your Prayers . . .

So, when word first hit the street that Motley Crue was putting the finishing touches on a new studio album (Saints of Los Angeles), I was psyched to say the least. Then, my buddy, the creator of this blog here, asks me to throw down a review . . . super psyched. I told him right then and there that it would be difficult to write an unbiased review of the new album because Motley has been my favorite band since 1981. He simply replied that he wasn't expecting one.

I decided to wait on the review until I had gone to see them live in Milwaukee, WI. I thought that hearing some of the new tunes live would give the review some added credibility since Motley has always outdone themselves on stage. The Crue played only (2) new songs - the title track and Mutherf***er of the Year. By the time the concert rolled around, I was predictably done with the title track. S.O.L.A. is a good single, but I've always been drawn to Crue's non-radio stuff. I'll give them this though, it was pretty cool having the lead singers from all the opening bands joining Vince for the chorus (et al "Cruefest"). MF'er OTY ripped live. Explosions on stage and a live crowd have a way of doing that to a song.

Enough about the show. What do I think of the Crue's first album of all-new material in (8) years? In a word . . . SOLID! It's everything the die-hard Crue fan wants - with just enough newness to grab the youth of the world by the hair and thrown them into the pit. I hope to God that some of these songs make it to radio so that people will remember what rock is.

I tend to judge Motley albums by the strength of performances by Vince Neil (vocals) and Mick Mars (lead guitar). I do so because I know that Tommy Lee (drums) and Nikki Sixx (bass) are always going to kick major ass. Tommy and Nikki did not disappoint on this record. Nikki proves that the old man can still rock and provide us with world class lyrics (This ain't a love song, it's just a f**k song). That's ROCK! Tommy? Well, Tommy's just Tommy. Back in the sack with Pam Anderson and laying down killer beats. Vince's vocals are as good or better than any since Shout at the Devil. His effort on "Just Another Psycho" may be his best since he got clean. The best part about this record though, is the emergence of Mick Mars. Yes, I said emergence. Everyone knows of Mick's ability to create and lay down tasty, memorable licks for the choruses of Nikki's songs, but what you may not know is how good he can be when he breaks off a solo. And to make things even better, on a few tunes, the boys let Nikki carry the main riff through the 3rd verse so that Mick can freestyle from his solo to the end. Tremendous!

The album starts with a spoken intro, which I think was a mistake. Any Crue fan will inevitably compare it to "In the Beginning" from Shout at the Devil. Tough to beat that. S.O.L.A. has everything from hard rock blues (White Trash Circus) to punk (Welcome to the Machine) to power ballad (The Animal in Me). It's retrospective (Down at the Whiskey) and introspective (What's it Gonna Take). And of course, there are plenty of good old fashioned ass kickers. The best song on the record, IMO, is "Chicks = Trouble". It comes together so well. All-in-all . . . classic Crue! - - by James Reetz

God of War

Mention the name Mick Mars in a casual discussion about guitars / tone, and you're likely to draw some raised eyebrows. Indeed, the self-proclaimed "extra-terrestrial" guitarst for Motley Crue certainly does not fit the stereotypical role of "guitar god" - - even though his guitar credentials are as lengthy as his drummer's *ahem* - - - well, we won't go there. Unlike many of of the 1980's metal-playing contemporaries whose legacy has been linked mostly to spandex and excessive behaviour, Mars has quietly (*an unlikely metaphor when describing anything Motley Crue) plied his craft for (27) years. Brothers & sisters, let me tell you, you don't get by that long in the rock n' roll biz without being able to throw down some kick-a$$ licks. Or better yet - without killer tone.

When the Crue launched themselves head-first into the 80's music scene, their sound was raw and unpolished. Mars' early 80's guitar sound was equal to task - edgy, surgical, over-driven. As the band began to find its own voice, his tone became more evolved - larger, fuller, more menacing. By the time the Dr. Feelgood album was released, Mars' guitar was the band's calling card - - huge, hooky riffs; giant walls of tube-driven vintage Marshalls; crescendos of dive-bombing whammy-bar madness. Set to Sixx / Lee's howitzer-class rhythm section and Neil's slinking, caterwaul vocals - - the Crue became the shiny, pouncing animal hood ornament on glam metal's speeding sports car. Until, of course, it crashed at high speed into a tree called grunge rock.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mars' "horror-film-meets-voodoo-witchdoctor" persona - something that not only is a perfect fit in the Crue "schtick" - it compliments his playing style perfectly. Eyes peering eerily from under a skull-and-crossbone'd Alice In Wonderland top hat, Mick seems most content to let his bandmates flaunt and flounce about the stage, while his tatooed fingers strangle shrieking notes and chords from the neck of a well-thrashed early 70's Stratocaster. He'll flash the occasional Mona Lisa-like grin - sublime . . . nonchalant. Players who kick-ass know it - and most definitely, Mars knows it.

Unfortunately, over the last decade or so, in addition to various chemical afflictions, a degenerative bone disease has begun to take its cruel toll upon Mars' already road-worn body - - something which he refers to as an "inconvenience". But fate often works in strange ways, as his slight gait and hunched posture lend a somewhat creepy authenticity to the Crue's "carnival-gone-awry" imagery.

From the raucous, train-wreck of mayhem called Too Fast For Love, to the blunt-edged weaponry of 2008's Saints of Los Angeles, Mars' skull-crushing licks have always remained front-and-center in the band's overall sound. I was trying to think of another 80's metal band whose sound / tone so beautifully encompassed their genre, and I was left with only Whitesnake, Judas Priest and the Scorpions. Heavy-hitters, indeed.

Fast forward to 2008. A re-united Crue is once again pillaging its way across the U.S. / Canada - celebrating two decades of rock n' roll excess with thousands upon thousands of their die-hard fans. Touring in support of their phenomenal Saints of Los Angeles, Mars & Co. have once again reclaimed their thrones atop the hard rock heap. Louder. Hotter. Heavier. More irreverent.

Whatever it is Mick and Co. are on these days - it's working. My only hope is that they'll send some if it Aerosmith's way. Bottom's up! - - J.