As a kid who grew up a huge Motley Crue fan, the buzz of a reunion of the original lineup in 1997 was big news for me. While I really enjoyed the eponymous 1994 record with John Corabi, most fans did not. So the return of vocalist Vince Neil generated a little bit of excitement for a band whose popularity had faded.
Things started well enough with a performance on the American Music Awards that year of “Shout ’97,” an industrialized version of their classic “Shout at the Devil.” Despite the fact that it was obvious Neil was lip-syncing to his 1983 vocal track during the performance, it was a promising first shot.
Unfortunately, when it arrived, there were few other tracks worth listening to on the jumbled mess that was Generation Swine.
In 1997, the music scene had long moved on from the sound of the Motley Crue’s ‘80s heyday, and Generation Swine was an attempt to show some relevance to that scene. It mixed electronics, hard rock, pop, punk, alternative and incredibly sappy ballads written for their significant others and children. There was even a song co-written by Canadian pop rocker Bryan Adams – though how that was supposed to make them more relevant in the mid-90s, I’m not sure.
Much of the record sounded written with John Corabi’s rougher voice in mind, and Corabi has claimed that he most of the songs were his, even though he’s given only two credits. Whatever the case, very little of it worked with Vince Neil.
Generation Swine opens with “Find Myself,” one of the stronger tracks. A mix of punk and electronic sounds with a mumbled verse by bassist Nikki Sixx leads to a 1970s glam-influenced chorus that marks Neil’s first appearance on the album. It’s that catchy and profane chorus that makes the song one of the few still worth a listen from this collection.
They follow up with alt-rocker “Afraid,” the first single from Generation Swine, which features backing vocals from Cheap Trick members Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen, and a chorus heavily influenced by that band – an influence that returns later in the album on “Anybody Out There?” “Afraid” was appropriate as a lead single, asking “are you afraid of change?” Maybe they should have been.
What follows is a collection of songs that range from bland to awful, with an occasional blast of a little fun, like the pop-punk title track or “Beauty,” which features drummer Tommy Lee on vocals and a little of the cock-rock swagger that Motley Crue was known for in its earlier incarnations. Oddly, there’s a pretty strong vocal performance by Vince Neil on “Confessions,” though the song itself is pretty boring.
There are a number of bad ballads on the record, but the two that stand out for the wrong reasons are “Rocketship” and “Brandon.” Musically, “Rocketship,” which features Nikki Sixx taking the mic again, isn’t awful. There’s something of a David Bowie vibe to it, but Sixx isn’t Bowie and neither are his lyrics dedicated to his girlfriend at the time, model Donna D’Errico. I will admit that I like the song now better than in 1997, but it’s still not good.
“Brandon,” Lee’s ode to his son, was probably better something kept private. I understand the sentiment. Believe me, I do. I understand the emotion of holding your child for the first time. I know where the song came from, and because of that, I almost feel bad for hating on it. The lyrics, though, despite being heartfelt, are just bad for the most part, and the song feels entirely out of place on a Motley Crue album.
All of that brings me to the most frustrating song on this record, one that’s aggravated me for years – “Let Us Prey.” It’s one of the two songs that John Corabi gets writing credits on, and it’s clearly written for him to sing. It’s the heaviest tune on Generation Swine – and with Corabi singing, it would have been, I think, outstanding. (You can hear that on the chorus, which still has some Corabi vocals in the background.) Neil’s nasally voice just doesn’t have the heft that the song requires, though. I’ve always wished they’d release the version with John Corabi at some point, but that’s not likely to happen.
Having not listened to this project in close to 20 years, the one thing that strikes me about it is how bad it sounds. The production is pretty weak, and the constant distortion to give it an industrial sound is very distracting. Oftentimes years and experience change your view of an album, but listening to this with fresh ears, I still feel the same as I did in 1997. Generation Swine is a failed attempt to make Motley Crue relevant again and just a bad all-around record.
The reunion around Generation Swine would be short-lived. Internal strife caused Lee to leave the band and be replaced by Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne) for the follow-up New Tattoo – which saw the band go too far in the other direction, sounding like a pale shadow of their 1980s selves. Castillo died of cancer before the band could tour the album, leading to the interesting choice of Samantha Maloney (Hole) as the touring drummer, though her tenure was short-lived as well.
Luckily for fans, the band ended on a better note, getting their collective acts together for 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles, a strong return to form. It sent them out on a good vibe, as it appears it will be their final studio album. Though the members are continuing with their own projects, Motley Crue announced the retirement of the band with a final tour in 2015.
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