Released: 2006, Universal Music
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The eighties were a time of unheralded debauchery on the metal scene. Sex, drugs, booze, partying…it was all the name of the game and no one played it better than Motley Crue. The band seemed to be in the news as much for their respective jail sentences, drug overdoses, lawsuits and failed marriages as they were for releasing classic albums such as SHOUT AT THE DEVIL and DR. FEELGOOD. As big as Motley Crue was at the end of the eighties, the loss of vocalist Vince Neil in 1992 proved to be a death knell that the band’s self-titled album from 1994 with John Corabi behind the mike couldn’t remedy. An ill-fated reunion with Neil spawned the out-of-character GENERATION SWINE album in 1997 and a better, though still unsuccessful album—NEW TATTOO—in 2000 that finally put a moratorium on all things Crue. Seeing the band on tour in 1999 with The Scorpions was an embarrassment from all sides. Tommy Lee had left the band after a public falling out with Neil, Mick Mars was in ailing health, Neil was out of shape and the band was a shadow of their former selves. The dismal LIVE: ENTERTAINMENT OR DEATH album from 1999 only goes to prove it. When it was announced in 2005 that Motley Crue would be reuniting once again, I had some skepticism after witnessing a tired band that seemed bound for has-been status just a few years earlier. So what does this latest reunion to soldier across the metal landscape have to offer?
Well, CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE is a testament to the fact that Motley Crue has returned, maybe not to their glory days, but certainly sounding better than we last heard them. This two-CD set documents the band’s show in Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 27, 2005 and at just under two hours, this is an excellent overview of the band’s career. Fans who didn’t already shell out for last year’s RED, WHITE AND CRUE package will find all the band’s hits here (tracks from NEW TATTOO and MOTLEY CRUE are glaring omissions) as well as live versions of the two new tracks from that collection. Certain annoyances still remain—Neil’s habit of not singing entire verses or the increasing Wiggerization of Tommy Lee—but that aside, CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE has a real live feel to it. The songs flow together but not without little breaks for Neil’s interaction with the crowd (he uses the word “fuck” like other people use the word “the” or “a”) as well as Lee and Nikki Sixx throwing in their two cents. Neil sounds good in general and better than he has in years, while Lee is still one of the hardest-hitting drummers in rock and considering Mars’ health problems, it’s a wonder he is even above ground let alone unleashing the spot-on riffs and solos he does. The band is definitely “back” and as good as can be expected of a bunch of guys in their mid- to late-forties who have been through what they have (read THE DIRT for proof), so without a promise of new material from Motley Crue circa 2006, this may just be the last we see of them and CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE would be a fitting swan song should that be the case.
Right from the opening crash of “Shout At the Devil,” it is obvious that Motley Crue came back to level its fans with an amazing show. The sound of exploding pyro, Lee’s thunderous drums, Sixx’ throbbing bass, Mars’ memorable riff and Neil hitting the high notes generates goose bumps. Furthering that, within twenty minutes, the band’s earliest (and best) material from TOO FAST FOR LOVE and SHOUT AT THE DEVIL rumbles out like twenty years never passed. The versions of “Too Fast For Love” and “Red Hot” are amazing here, the band showing the same ferocity, energy and passion that made them one of the hottest bands to come out of California at the time. Lee’s double bass into to “Red Hot” still gives me chills 23 years after first hearing it. As the first disc progresses, Neil’s voice begins to waver and he sounds positively winded on “Too Young To Fall In Love.” “Live Wire” suffers even worse with entire lapses in Neil’s singing, not to mention the fact that Lee hollers out to the crowd to “Bring it, bitches!” Still, disc one is a hits-filled hour with the exception of the also-ran “Louder Than Hell.”
The second disc is a bit of a mixed bag and certainly geared towards fans who stuck with the band after the apex of DR. FEELGOOD in 1989 or were die-hard fans. “Primal Scream” nearly bests the original version with a smoking intro from Sixx and Lee and Mars later nails the swirling solo perfectly. It is nice to see “Same Ol’ Situation,” a track which is among the best found on the DR. FEELGOOD album and a “lost gem,” in my opinion, included here but the medley of ballads—“Glitter,” “Without You” and “Home Sweet Home”—pulls down some of the momentum. “Home Sweet Home” is the penultimate concert staple and you can almost picture the sea of lighters and waving arms raised as the band cruises through the track but does “Glitter” really deserve any attention? And the overly sappy cheesiness of “Without You” is as hideous today as it was in 1989. “Kickstart My Heart,” one of the best Crue tracks ever, is absolutely butchered here. Mars’ delivers the goods on guitar and the rollicking riff that drives the song is still intact but Neil sounds like he has forgotten the words because his delivery is a mishmash of gibberish and totally dropped verses. Following that, the band’s embarrassing versions of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and, even worse, The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The U.K.” are a real low point. Neil growls his way through the former while his snarled impression of Johnny Rotten on the latter should be grounds for a stiff fine.
The track selection here is pretty solid, despite a few curiosities. “Louder Than Hell” is B-grade Crue material and the fact that it is played here and not, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” for example (one of the band’s biggest hits) is strange. Also, why does “Glitter,” the “hit” (if you can call it that) from GENERATION SWINE, get a brief treatment but why did NEW TATTOO not get any acknowledgement? I would also have enjoyed hearing some solo material played. Of course, I am only speaking of Neil’s stuff (“Sister of Pain” would sound real slick coming from this band) and not Methods of Mayhem, Brides of Destruction or 1958! What pains me most, though, is hearing Tommy Lee, a 44-year old Caucasian man, sinking ever deeper into the pit of clichéd hip-hop slang, delivering lines like “Yeeeeeah!” and the aforementioned “Bring it!” to a crowd of mostly over-thirty suburban White people. If the image of Lee honking a boat horn with his penis hasn’t burned itself into my brain forevermore, seeing a man I once looked at as a drum god in rainbow dreadlocks rapping with Methods of Mayhem has surely done irreversible damage. I guess the saying is true that “once you go black, you can never go back.”
CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE is tagged at around $12, so value-wise this is a no-brainer however a double-DVD of the same show (along with extra goodies) was released late in 2005 and if I had to choose between one or the other, the DVD (also cheap at around $18) is the way to go. The whole premise of the band’s tour was to create a circus-like spectacle to coincide with the music and give fans a real visual treat. Motley Crue has sounded better but those days are long gone. They have also sounded a lot worse and, thankfully, those days are also (hopefully) gone. Fans looking for a bit of nostalgia will be delighted with this package and find much to rekindle memories of the time but it is difficult to look past the limitations of the band as they are today. The first half of the show is nearly flawless but things really fall apart in the final hour and the inferiority of the band’s later material is clearly evident. Nobody ever accused Motley Crue of being an overly-talented band and there is no telling how much of a future this group of misfits has but CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE shows the group still has some flex left in their tiring muscles.
***CARNIVAL OF SINS LIVE was released in late 2005 in separate (and censored) single-disc versions through Wal-Mart entitled VOLUME 1 and VOLUME 2.