Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Motley Crue’s career from their debut, 1981’s Too Fast for Love, to their last album, 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles.
Editors’ Note: The intro has been updated to reflect Mötley Crüe’s 2022-2023 reunion tour with co-headliners Def Leppard.
A few years after retiring as a touring band, Mötley Crüe were back in the spotlight with the new Netflix movie The Dirt, a film adaptation of the tell-all biography of the same name. It portrayed a band that peddled moral depravity and was met with monetary reward. However questionable the band’s behavior — bad enough that there’s no way they could find success as a new outfit in 2019 — focusing on their debauchery ignores the quality of the band’s music.
Following the success of the movie, Mötley Crüe reunited for a planned co-headlining 2020 tour with Def Leppard. After the pandemic put it on hold, the tour finally kicked off in 2022, with new dates scheduled for 2023 (pick up tickets here).
Ostensibly one of the leaders of the glam-metal movement that dominated ’80s radio and MTV, Mötley Crüe played more furiously than their peers. No band better embodied the decrepitude submerged beneath the Sunset Strip except for maybe Guns N’ Roses, who are their juniors. The Crüe took influence from glam bands like Sweet and arena rock acts such as Aerosmith and Cheap Trick but zeroed in on the most simple elements of those sounds in a punk-like fashion, which may be why “Shout at the Devil” and other songs have aged so well. Simple machines seldom break.
They left the technical virtuosity to bands like Van Halen, and the polished aesthetics to bands like Poison. With their rudimentary-but-effective songs, mostly written by bassist Nikki Sixx, they had more musically in common with Venom than most glam acts — a comparison that their overtly sexist lyrics and flirtations with satanic imagery only underline.
Still, the band’s musicianship often gets overlooked. Guitarist Mick Mars eschewed flash in favor of tasteful, bluesy licks; drummer Tommy Lee kept the spirit of John Bonham — and a little James Brown fun — alive in songs like “Live Wire”; bassist Sixx provided a steady low-end; and what Vince Neil lacked in vocal range he made up for in machine-gun delivery.
Famous and famously misunderstood, Mötley Crüe’s output deserves deconstruction as the new feature film The Dirt introduces the band to new audiences.
— Joseph Schafer
Contributing Writer, Heavy Consequence