As they said themselves, all bad things must come to an end (except war, disease, famine, corruption, prejudice…) and, after more than three decades together, Mötley Crüe got together in January 2014 to announce their impending retirement that may or may not actually be a retirement. They’re going out with a bang, though, and to celebrate the end of an era they’ve gathered together some goodies for us to enjoy as the sun sets: a farewell world tour; a movie adaptation of their bestselling autobiography The Dirt; and, er, a country music tribute album, Nashville Outlaws. So instead of that new Mötley Crüe EP/album we were promised a while back, this is what we’re getting. Am I permitted to not give too much of a hoot about this?
But let’s hoot anyway. This album has been brought to you courtesy of Big Machine Records, one of the most prominent country music labels operating at the moment and, according to this website at least, one of the most toxic. As far as I can tell all the artists on here (apart from LeAnn Rimes – she’s on this, by the way) are signed to the label, which is why you might not recognise some of the names and might have a beef with some artists that weren’t included, if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t have much of a vested interest in country music so I can’t really speak up about whether this singer or that band should have been here, but I am a big fan of the Crüe, so I feel like I have something to say here – and that something is, “wait, what?”
See, I’m torn as to whether I should pick this up or not. It’s not like the Ronnie James Dio tribute back in March, which featured artists I love paying tribute to one of the greatest metal singers of all time. Nashville Outlaws is more of a weird curiosity – it’s not necessarily a good or bad concept, just a bizarre one. A country music tribute to this band could work, but who asked for it? When have Mötley Crüe ever shown any inclination towards country music? This is the equivalent of a funk tribute to Whitesnake, or a metalcore tribute to Duran Duran. This isn’t some small endeavour, either – this was promoted by the band and heavily advertised as one of the pinnacles of the Crüe’s farewell celebrations, alongside a film and a major tour. They want us to believe this is a big deal. So is it?
Well, let’s have a look at the songs being covered. For the most part it’s the usual suspects – “Home Sweet Home“, “Kickstart My Heart“, “Looks That Kill“, etc. – which should please most people and surprise absolutely no-one. Personally I would have had these artists attempt something like “Bastard” or “Hooligan’s Holiday“, just to hear the results, but that’s why I’m not a record producer. As for noteworthy entries, current bro-country flagwavers Florida Georgia Line have puzzlingly opted to re-record the track “If I Die Tomorrow“, a song that first appeared on the Crüe’s 2005 greatest hits album and which was written for them by the band Simple Plan. Dig as deep as you can, I suppose, and their popularity at the moment might ignite some mainstream interest in the record, but it’s not really the best example of Mötley Crüe’s sound or aesthetic. Eli Young Band covering “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” should be worth a listen, as should Aaron Lewis attempting the Crüe’s nervy alt-rock experiment “Afraid“. One choice that personally stands out is “The Animal in Me” by Cassadee Pope with Robin Zander. Now, I despise that song – it might just be my least favourite Crüe song of all time – but it’s always cool to hear Robin Zander singing these days (especially as it doesn’t seem a new Cheap Trick record is coming out any time soon) and from what I’ve heard of Pope’s music I’m sure she’ll handle it well. You never know, they might even persuade me to give the original another chance.
And there’s the rub: I’m positive this’ll be professionally put together, the songs will be well performed and everything will sound great, which doesn’t give me much ammunition to criticise it with. My only major concern is that it doesn’t seem as if it should exist in the first place. If we really wanted to pay homage to one of the most outrageous rock bands of all time, wouldn’t it have been more fitting to assemble some artists who actually took some notable influence from them? Buckcherry, maybe, or The Last Vegas? Mötley Crüe aren’t even from Nashville – they’re the quintessential Sunset Strip band. To me, this seems more like an opportunity to promote the record label and its signings than an attempt to symbolise what Mötley Crüe were about – and honestly, do Florida Georgia Line really need any more promotion?
At least, to his credit, Big Machine head honcho Scott Borchetta has stated that he wants the artists “to strip down the songs to just the acoustic guitar and rebuild them with their own vision,” which is a fair enough sentiment. But why Crüe? That hard rock aggression was a big part of their sound – it provided a menacing backdrop to their sleaze antics and gave them a sense of danger (or, at least, more so than other hair metal bands at the time). Songs like “Wild Side” aren’t just great because they’re catchy – it’s because they ROCK. Stripping back these songs might be an admirable attempt at reinventing them, but it doesn’t automatically make for a worthwhile product or effort.
It can work, mind you: that slow acoustic version of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” is pretty sweet, but at least with that the band actually did rebuild the song, giving it a swampy blues swing in contrast to the original’s punk ferocity. Can we expect similar imagination from these Nashville Outlaws? I’d like to think so but, given that country music itself isn’t doing so great in terms of inventiveness at the moment, I really can’t say.
Anyway, news on the album keeps cropping up every now and then, which is why I feel compelled now to say something about it before it’s released in a couple of months time. I might pick it up one day, but I’m in no hurry to have any of these artists in my iTunes library. What do you think?