Throughout the 1980s, M"tley Cr"e were at the forefront of a style of music few care to remember fondly- they were the first of the generation of post-Van Halen
glam rock bands to break from the Sunset Strip scene and justified their continued existence through the decade by virtue of the occasional hit single and the kinds of excess virtually unparalleled in rock n" roll. After 1989"s Dr. Feelgood
became the group"s biggest hit to date, Vince Neil become alienated from the band and either left or was fired, depending on who tells the tale. John Corabi quickly filled the breach, a heavy blues-style shouter who brought with him the option of a second guitarist, considerably thickening the band"s heavy metal sound.
When sessions began for the follow-up, provisionally entitled "Personality #9," the band was pushing for an even heavier sound. The band drafted celebrated industrial rock producer Scott Humphrey (Skinny Puppy, Rob Zombie) and then member of Nine Inch Nails
keyboardist Charlie Clouser to help expand their sonic base. From the beginning, it was clear that the album was Nikki and Tommy's project. John was sidelined and Mick was reduced to a bit player. Those first few months would be so stressful for the pair that Corabi would claim the band wanted him to quit, while Mick vowed to make it his last album with the band. Corabi was effectively shoved aside as Vince returned in 1996, and though he was retained "for songwriting purposes," he soon took the hint and left. Vince re-recorded many of Corabi's vocals, but the majority of the songs were written, or re-written, after his return.
The approach they took in the studio was termed by Nikki "the accident"- the net result of taking one"s hands of the wheel and seeing where you end up. Elektra had made a massive investment in the band shortly before grunge broke, and were now prepared to accept any output from the original four members; when the band decided to push for a sound that was more in tune with alternative metal than glam rock, the label counted the more easily marketable direction as a bonus. The group"s unique position in relation to the label gave them a type of liberty not afforded to many bands, and they took advantage of the lack of control by" letting go themselves. Bound not by commercial pressures or the expectations of their diminishing fanbase, they had free rein to create, but the lack of outside interference also meant they"d have to rely on their own quality control functions to succeed. It was a risky venture, to be sure to be sure.
One particularly striking aspect of Generation Swine
, aside from the obvious, is the vast improvement, or at the very least development, in Nikki Sixx"s songwriting. The bassist always had a knack for a good tune, but often his inadequacies as a lyricist or his juvenile co
ck rock tendencies had cheapened his more reflective compositions to some degree. Thankfully, there"s little trace of that here, as Sixx exhibits genuine and (even for a longtime fan) somewhat unexpected maturity as a lyricist. Sporadic examples exist throughout the back catalogue, of course- "Home Sweet Home" is arguably the only highlight from Theatre of Pain
but exhibited a sensitivity rarely attributable to the group- but for the first time since Shout At The Devi
l, or even Too Fast For Love
, there"s something which amounts to a steady show of real honesty not clouded by the artificial veneer of much of that era"s music.
"Afraid" is an expression of a new couple"s collective insecurities though cast as the woman"s problem- a peculiarly male form of projection- culminating with the piercing phrase, "another broken pretty thing". "Glitter" (co-written, oddly, with famous Canadian Bryan Adams) courts similar territory but with an inward focus, worrying if his partner is thinking of someone else, begging for a commitment, offering his own with the gesture only a seasoned rock n" roller could- "I want your name on my tattoo". What did I say about maturity? The former became the album"s lead single, accompanied by a video which featured co-conspirator in depravity Larry Flynt- did I really mention maturity? Nevertheless, combined with the excellent "Rocketship," those three tracks are unlike anything we"re used to from the band. Not only are they brilliantly written, but all feature challenging electronic arrangements that belie their core simplicity, as well as the inventive synthesized guitar of Mick Mars who shows he"s not out of his depth when he strays from his hard blues-rock bed.
Naturally, there"s still a couple of spots saved for the dumb riff-rock of old. The title track "Generation Swine" sees the band announces its return with a pushy lyric derived from a Hunter S. Thompson title, announcing: "Back in ya face/Such a disgrace/We're the Generation Swine". "Anybody Out There" echoes "Iggy Pop" with the throwaway lyric "Wanna be your dog/wanna be your man/let"s break the speed of sound/because we"re moving way too fast". Reading the lyrics alone, "Beauty" could be a cut from any other M"tley Cr"e album, it"s lyrics returning to the favourite theme of the poor "beauty" who winds up on the wrong side of the tracks and drama ensues. Both songs and themes feel out of place in the wider context of an album which seems to be a conscious effort to move away from glam stereotypes; as such, these examples feel less like a bridge from the past as an inability to fully let go of the past.
The bulk of the album is devoted to hard rock tracks structurally very similar to their so-called "classic era" but sonically re-wired and approached from a direction entirely alien to the band. Opener "Find Myself" is the most traditional of album"s cuts, featuring a strong repeated riff but instead relying upon Sixx"s heavily distorted vocals. As the bassist does his best Johnny Rotten impersonation, a mixture contorted vocal samples and a screeching child introduce a disorder of sorts before Vince takes over for the pop chorus. While it doesn"t exactly represent the album as a whole, it"s at least an initiation of sorts into the tumultuous whole, and the contrast between Nikki"s crazed verse and Vince"s restraining influence in the refrain can be taken to be representative of the music to come- perhaps this is the reason it was chosen.
The theme of self-deprecation runs through the lyrics of both Nikki and Tommy Lee, from the opening chorus ("I"m a wreck/I"m a sleaze/I"m a rock n" roll disease") to tracks like "A Rat Like Me" and the aforementioned "Glitter". Self-criticism runs the gauntlet self-parody at times, as lines like "I"m the reason women bleed/I"ve been called the curse of Eve" and "I"m a snot-nosed nuclear sonic punk" can be effective, in the case of the former (the opening line of "Let Us Prey"), but in the second example gives the curious sense of somebody combining scientific terms with reckless abandon.
"Let Us Prey" strikes like a mutated, channeled aggressive re-telling of Pantera
"s "Cowboys In Hell," no doubt due to the rhythmic similarities between the respective guitar riffs. It"s a mainstay from the Crabby-era, with a crunchy two-guitar attack- his cat-like scream is even retained at the climax of the thrilling chorus. The lyrics are standard heavy metal fare, aiming for gory and almost succeeding, yet the personal representation of what appears to be a perverse image of God, or a god, is noticeably well-crafted, with piercing lines such as the one that follows: "preachers do my bidding yet blame me for their sins". Also contained is an extended coda in which Tommy and Nikki let loose their creative instincts, the latter showing himself to be a far more competent bass player than in previous efforts.
Next to "Let Us Prey", Generation Swine
"s crowning glory is the beautiful "Rocketship"- a dream-like love song constituting little more than Sixx, his acoustic guitar and some airy synthesized sounds. As he explains in the liner notes, the song was written in the early hours and marked the first time he told his new wife that he loved her, however the exact details aren"t particularly necessary to understand the basic message: Nikki wants to take his love to the moon in a rocket ship where, alone, he can show her how much he loves. The lyrics are suitably simplistic and to the point, and the breezy trance-like melody is kind to his limited but expressive vocal range.
I"ll conclude with a point I attempted to highlight earlier; the essential problem with Generation Swine
isn"t an issue of quality, rather an issue of quality control. One of the problems one has to overcome when entrusted with creative freedom is how exactly to gauge what passes and what doesn"t. With no subjective pressure from outside to conform with certain trends or to produce a certain type of song, it"s vital to retain some sort of objective realism on the subject. It"s arguable whether there"s room for a song like Tommy Lee"s "Brandon" on any album, let alone a heavy metal album. Tacked on the end of Generation Swine
, the song that only a son could love is out of place and out of time; the inept lyricism clashing badly with the over-passionate vocal. Sure it"s sincere, but it"s almost embarrassing. Ditto the co
ck rock tracks lumped in the middle of some rather enterprising industrial-ish metal tracks.
was a worthwhile experiment for the band that produced some of their most enduring music, however when the sighs of relief breathed when they decided to abandon the new direction were not altogether unjustfied. So it remains an imperfect museum piece that may even benefit from its anamolous position within the group's catalogue.