Review Summary: It too often sounds like something Nikki Sixx would expect Crue fans to like rather than the top-class rock n’ roll he’s capable of.
Following the critical and artistic success of his 2007 solo-ish album The Heroin Diaries
, it was no surprise when bassist Nikki Sixx decided to recruit Sixx:A.M. bandmates James Michael and DJ Ashba to help write and produce the first Mötley Crüe album in nine years, Saints Of Los Angeles
. Like The Heroin Diaries
, Saints Of Los Angeles
was written to coincide with the events of an autobiographical text: the former revolved around Sixx’s memoirs of the same name, documenting the height of his heroin-induced psychomania in 1987; the latest album is the retroactive soundtrack to the Crüe’s 2001 joint autobiography The Dirt
, which recounts the band’s history from their troubled childhoods through megastardom and the inevitable fall from grace. Yet, while Sixx, Michael, Ashba and Aerosmith songwriter Marti Frederiksen dominate the album’s writing credits, the music on offer is very self-consciously remiscent of Crüe albums of old- in particular the group’s most successful record to date, 1989’s Dr. Feelgood
In a sense, this return to past glories is surprisingly seamless. Metallica have spent two decades trying to recreate their ‘80s heyday and haven’t once produced a track as brutal or spine-chilling as ‘Master Of Puppets,’ ‘One’ or ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls.’ The Crüe, on the other hand, excelled at crafting infectious power pop ditties with real heavy metal clout, and in ‘Saints Of Los Angeles’ they’ve produced a single that could rival even the best in their catalogue. Creeping in with a sinister, melodic bass line, the background narration calls to mind the foreboding opening of the classic album Shout At The Devil
, but from that point on, it takes on more of a poppy bent, recalling the anthemic style of Dr. Feelgood
. The lyrics, too, feed into the pseudo-religious imagery of Shout
, as Vince Neil sings (in one of his best vocal performances ever): “it doesn’t matter what you think / we’re gonna do it anyway / we are the Saints / one day you will confess / and pray to the Saints of Los Angeles.”
While the album never recaptures the feckless glory of the title track, it does come close on occasion. ‘Just Another Pyscho,’ ‘Welcome To The Machine’ and ‘The Animal In Me’ recall the mid-90s industrial experiment Generation Swine
, mixing swampy metallic riffs with hair-brained punk vocals. ‘Welcome To The Machine’ trips up upon a weak, aimless chorus, but ‘Just Another Pyscho’ flourishes in its chaotic environment as Sixx (through Neil) recounts his struggles with drug-induced psychosis: “they opened up the door to my insanity / they should have slammed it shut right there and thrown away the key.”
Opening track proper ‘Face Down In The Dirt’ is also self-consciously reminiscent of Dr. Feelgood
, owing particularly to the whammy bar action of guitarist Mick Mars, an infectious punk rock outing that showcases (for once) the show-stealing skills of drummer Tommy Lee, as he alone dictates the transition from verse to chorus in the absence of a significant chord-change.
The generally raised standard of instrumental performance is noticeable throughout the album. While Lee’s drumming may not be emphasised as strongly in the mix as it was under the tutelage of Bob Rock (Dr. Feelgood
, Mötley Crüe
), this is one of his most technically demanding performances on record, and he’s adds as much to the character of the songs as he ever has. Similarly, it’s difficult to remember a time when Vince has sounded quite so vital
. Those who have witnessed his live performances will have been struck by his tendency only to sing the second half of lines to preserve his breath, but there’s little evidence of either fatigue or studio trickery here, and Neil has never sounded better. His performance on the lead single, in particular, is stunning, and his vocals might be the main reason it sounds so youthful and exuberant.
As has been the case with too many Crüe records in the past, however, the standard of quality doesn’t really hold up across all of the tracks. Likely second single ‘Muther Fucker
Of The Year’ and the depressingly lightweight ‘Down At The Whisky,’ both of which attempt to recall the hell-raising days when they ruled the Sunset Strip, instead recall the worst of 2000’s turgid New Tattoo
, a compromise album that attempted to please the fans of the old shit
and attract a contemporary audience but wound up in bargain bins everywhere. And while Saints Of Los Angeles
is occasionally stunning, as is consistent with Sixx’s recent return to form, it often sounds too much like something Nikki Sixx would expect Crüe fans to like, rather than the top-class rock n’ roll he’s time-and-time-again proven himself capable of making.