Motley Crue
Theatre of Pain



by Dave de Sylvia EMERITUS
June 6th, 2006 | 147 replies

Release Date: 1985 | Tracklist

Looking back on the past few decades in music, it’s hard to think of another band that's done so much to destroy its own burgeoning legacy as Mötley Crüe, and in such a short period of time, too. Even Elvis had the good sense to descend gracefully into self-parody, Mötley Crüe all but dived in the cesspool with their third full-length Theatre of Pain in 1985.

Debut album Too Fast For Love had established the foursome as the leaders of the Sunset Strip hard rock scene, as they combined melodies reminiscent of the best of ‘70s power-pop (Cheap Trick, The Raspberries) with a harder edge courtesy of guitarist Mick Mars, whose well-honed style fell somewhere between Joe Perry and Eddie Van Halen. It didn’t matter that drummer Tommy Lee was the only member with real chops, by the time Shout at the Devil rolled around in 1983 the band had perfected their style. Their once slightly thin sound gave way tight, aggressive rhythms, Mick Mars' guitar riffs were now spacious and brooding, while vocalist Vince Neil sought to emulate ball-grabbers like Rob Halford rather than effeminates like Robin Zander.

Shout at the Devil, in 1983, was a revelation (despite the satanic theme): proof that heavy metal didn’t have to be particularly clever or difficult to sound absolutely great. A year and a half later, Theatre of Pain dropped, and it blew the success of its predecessor well and truly out of the water, became their first platinum release and even made the Top Ten. Now a lot had changed since Shout was released; Van Halen had released 1984 a year earlier, while the Scorpions and Ozzy Osbourne were riding the success of their biggest releases to date thanks to super-slick productions and catchy Def Leppard-style choruses. Theatre of Pain blended right in.

However, while Def Leppard and Van Halen were first and foremost pop bands, Mötley Crüe simply weren’t geared to produce singles on a par with ‘Jump,’ ‘Hot for Teacher’ and ‘Photograph.’ David Lee Roth and Joe Elliott were not just genuinely gifted singers and performers, they were experienced pop songwriters; Vince Neil at this stage was still having trouble singing consecutive lines in the studio (he only does one line at a time, as the saying goes). Theatre of Pain spawned two hits, one a cover: ‘Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room’ and ‘Home Sweet Home.’ Van Halen’s 1984 produced four and Def Leppard’s Pyromania three the same year; by 1987, Def Leppard could boast seven hit singles from their magnum opus Hysteria. Guess what Mötley Crüe were doing"

Going by the song titles alone, one could be forgiven for guessing Theatre of Pain was a concept record about a protest outside the Republican National Convention. Song titles like ‘Fight For Your Rights,’ ‘Raise Your Hands to Rock’ and ‘Use It or Lose It’ rival even the most ill-researched clichés in the AC/DC back catalogue. Looking back, one might have predicted this. Mötley Crüe grew up writing songs about life as street urchins, striving to pull themselves above the crowd. When they finally made it, they discovered it’s much easier to do drugs and loose women than to actually write about it or, more challenging, to actually write about something relatable.

And they weren’t just stuck for words either, Theatre of Pain is, even by mid-80s hair rock’s standards, for the most part derivative, formulaic and practically devoid of originality. In choosing to lead with a cover (and not just any cover, but a cover of ‘70s arena rock also-rans Brownsville Station’s ‘Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room’), the Crüe may have demonstrated the first recorded case of a band selling out without writing any actual singles to achieve these ends. Eight of the album’s ten tracks can be considered filler, from the “it rings so true!” noisy rocker ‘Use It or Lose It’ to the equally obnoxious ‘Louder Than Hell’ - the former copping the riff from ‘Live Wire’ and the latter a lifeless clone of Shout at the Devil’. That the rendition of ‘Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room’ is in fact very tastefully executed and a genuinely fun pop recording is heartening; that it’s the only track to feature audible bass isn’t.

Producer Tom Werman must share a portion of the blame for the mess here contained. The immense job he did on Shout at the Devil is evident by the weedy demo tracks included on that album’s Crücial Crüe re-release. The opposite is true here, as Werman’s attempt to replicate Mutt Lange’s slick commercial sound falls flat. Tommy Lee, who shone so brightly on the first two releases, is all but invisible, as his role is limited to that of a bit player, his ridiculous bass-thump filling in behind guitars and vocals to disastrous effect. The potentially brilliant partnership with Sixx hinted at on Shout is non-existent, bass mixed out of all but a few sections. Some might call this a blessing, for Nikki is hardly a “great” bassist, but one can’t help but mourn the pulsating rhythms that are so ineptly re-creating here. He did manage to get a couple of things right, however, and surprisingly enough the most well-produced track here is the one with the least outside meddling.

‘Home Sweet Home’ is far and away the best song on the album and remains a classic ballad, and the cover aside was the album’s one single-worthy piece. If this album actually has a saving grace, it’s this track. ‘Home Sweet Home’ all but re-invented the power ballad in the mid-80s, writing the blueprint for a million self-pitying introspections in the coming years. With a road-weary lyric Bob Seger would be proud of (provided the title was changed to some uncommon but All-American girl’s name, naturally), the song is a classic tale (how about Patti") of longing to return to one’s comfort zone (Marjery"), as Neil croons, “my heart’s like an open book, for the whole world to read / I’m on my way [to] Home Sweet Home.” Easily the most enduring song in the band’s catalogue, it also sticks out like a sore thumb with a sparse, simple, keyboard-driven arrangement that compliments beautifully Vince’s most competent vocal performance (and it’s no coincidence that it’s the only song where his voice isn’t multi-tracked throughout).

There’s an old rock n’ roll cliché that links excessive drug use and creativity. They’ll say some of the best albums ever have been created with the aid of heroin, cocaine and sweet, sweet acid: Electric Ladyland, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pet Sounds. Perhaps this is true for sensitive folks like Eric Clapton who sit around in their hotel rooms crying to Freddie King guitar solos, but when the subjects are brash, street kids with more money than sense, the end results tend to be a little less revolutionary. In Mötley Crüe’s case, it just sucked.

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user ratings (432)

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 6th 2006


Good review. :thumb:

Perhaps this is true for sensitive folks like Eric Clapton who sit around in their hotel rooms crying to Freddie King guitar solos,

I oughtta punch you in the nose. Still, you got my vote. This Message Edited On 06.06.06

June 6th 2006


This was a very entertaining and fun read, I'm still in shock that you gave this an "awful" rating.

June 6th 2006


I think you actually like this, and this review is a cry for attention.This Message Edited On 06.06.06

June 7th 2006


"Mtley Cre simply werent geared to produce singles on a par with Jump, Hot for Teacher and Photograph."
Kickstart My Heart ftw. Although, fair enough, that came later.
Their weakest 80's album, and probably their worst overall, although I do like Home Sweet Home and Use It Or Lose It.
Good review. As much as I love the Crue, you get my vote.

June 7th 2006


Album Rating: 1.0

Great. I really don't like these guys at all, so this gives me a perfect opportunity to safely say this album SUCKS! Nice review, Spat Out. You captured the pure suckiness of it all quite well....

June 7th 2006


Album Rating: 1.0

I love the Crue, they're are easily my favourite band, but I have to agree with you here...this album is complete shit. I saw an interview (I think it's on their Greatest Video Hits DVD), where Nikki states that he doesn't even remember making this album, or Girls, Girls, Girls. Either way, both of the aforementioned albums are shit, Girls is a bit better than this one, but still complete trash. Great review though, it was an interesting read, and I couldn't agree more.

The Jungler
June 7th 2006


Hmmm, I don't know to much Crue but most of what I do know I hate. They do have some good songs though.

That said, this was a superb review.

Storm In A Teacup
June 7th 2006


Spat Out Plath saved us all by freezing hell over with a 1 review of Motley Crue on 6/6/6!

The Sludge
June 7th 2006


Even Tommy Lee mentioned that he wished himself and the band would have spent more time on the album, that it could have been something more than it was.

Well with the Smoking In The Boys Room cover, and Home Sweet Home, I would have gave this credit of 1.5 atleast based on those alone, (didnt listen to the album, dont really want to).

Its amazing that most of the 80's c*ck rock has some of the most shitty albums. Yet the nostoliga (however) is still there.

December 18th 2006


Hey You all out there putting harsh comments How can you bother to write about an album that you didn't listen complete? Stick to your favourite album don't write shit!

November 26th 2008


Album Rating: 3.0

Is girls girls girls worse than this album? i heard that they were on so much drugs that they cant remember recording TOP or GGG, so im wondering what album is worse.

I don't mind this album, whilst they have had better albums, it is still a solid 3 from me.

August 24th 2009


Album Rating: 1.5

This album is seriously terrible. Normally Motley Crue is a sort of novelty, but this is just utterly stinky

August 24th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

this cd is great

August 24th 2009


I don't like this but I do have to admit the Smokin in the Boys Room video is pretty amazing

Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

This needs a postive review

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July 24th 2010


A year and half after the near "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" style greatness of Shout at the Devil, the lure of the chicks and riches got to be too much for the Crue and this album was the result. And with how shit was trending in 1985, it gave them all the bling and excess they could ever desire for a few more years.

Not sure what to rate this album (1 or 1.5), but suffice to say its not good. Extremely formulaic, unimaginative, unoriginal, and generally a half-assed effort all around. But if for some reason you wish to experience all of the 80's glam/hair cliches and cheesiness on in full force, then look no further than Theatre of Pain or its hundreds of clones that followed in the years leading up to the alt/grunge invasion.

February 23rd 2012


Album Rating: 2.0

Only good song is Louder Than Hell IMO. Well at least it's been stuck in my head for a while.

August 13th 2012


Album Rating: 2.0

I agree with the review 100%.

The album is basically crapola. The band was so out of it at this stage, they actually lucked out with Home Sweet Home.

Otherwise, there never would have been a Girls, Girls, Girls (not good) or Dr. Feelgood (awesome).

This is Mötley Crüe's answer to Diver Down.

Staff Reviewer
August 13th 2012


Even Dr. Rockso doesn't dig this

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March 12th 2013


Album Rating: 4.5

This album single handedly got me into music. The impact it had back in the day was incredible. It's probably their heaviest album as well.

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