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Certainly one of the band’s defining moments, Overkill marks when Lemmy Kilminster stepped out of the shadow of the good ship Hawkwind into a rock ’n’ roll legend of his own. Gone is the confused and poorly produced scrabble of the debut, gone are the days of the Nm-fucking-E having the gall to label them bad, and gone is any doubt that this isn’t the greatest the real beginning of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band (Rolling what?).
Make no mistake about it, folks, this isn’t the screaming, blazing heavy metal juggernaut you wanted; it’s still a bluesy rock ’n’ roll record at heart, from well back in the day when I was naught but a twinkle in my father’s eye. It’s a time when wearing a leather jacket meant you had all three MC5 records and you, rightfully so, fucking loved them. Honestly, as much as Overkill marks a rather sizable step forward for rock music in a lot of respects (read: intensity) it’s still got a lot of the past hammered into its grooves*. I hear touches of Eric Clapton’s playing in Eddie’s style here; it’s got a lot of that old slow-hand feel, and unlike your Blackmores, Roths, Downings and Tiptons he’s got absolutely no classical influence to his playing. It’s no wonder everyone has such a difficult time trying to pigeonhole Motörhead. Is it rock ’n’ roll? Is it heavy metal? Do large carnivorous vegetables make it? All of the above?
Well, I don’t have the answers, do I? We’d probably just be better off in saying this shares more common ground with Damned Damned Damned and Blood Brothers than it does Stained Class and leave it at that. All we can truly be certain of in our studies of the almighty ‘head is that it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever heard in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The evidence is right in front of you, and it’s called ‘Stay Clean’: the evergreen second track in the band’s set and coincidently this album. ‘Stay Clean’ is not an anti-drug hymn, it’s not about finding salvation through Jesus and abstinence, in fact it’s about how the humble rock ’n’ roller – every WI mother’s worst nightmare – occupies a higher moral ground than the politician and the preacher. I know, difficult to believe, right? But yes, there’s certainly something cool here we’re talking Italian American jumps shark levels of cool here: the way Lemmy ends almost every line by inhaling very audibly, the simple dynamic alteration between wah pedal on and wah pedal off, and the song’s absolute climax in which the searing bass overtakes Eddie’s guitar and burns so bright with that simple melodic solo that’s effortlessly memorable. It’s over in just less than three minutes, but then again so are a lot of things, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, for instance.
I know what you’re thinking; you’re going to complain about the lack variation, subtle nuances and shifting textures, right? C’mon now, this is Motörhead and it’s all about those things! No, really. ‘I’ll Be Your Sister’ is something very unusual for the band; it has a good-time feel to it that’s certainly nothing too special for the band. It’s a strangely feminine song, just read the lyrics – it may well be played at the same volume as the rest of the album but it’s such an oddity in the Motörhead canon. Apparently people need variation spelt out in a very obvious rocker/ballad format with MASSIVE CAPITAL LETTERS or they completely miss it. Honestly, next time you think Motörhead think subtle variation… maybe it’ll get through. But then that’s the problem with your favourite bands, right? When other people listen to them they have the habit of getting it wrong and you have to go “You’re doing it wrong!” whilst screwing your face up like a small child who’s just fell off his bike.
‘Capricorn’ is another one of the band’s strangest numbers; all mystical, astrological and spacey. It’s another one of Lemmy’s “I’m this, I act like this and you’re fucking against me” songs. He does them well. Motörhead really shed off most of this experimentation after a couple of ill-fated moments on Bomber (though they certainly reared their head in rather striking form on Another Perfect Day). Maybe it’s because passing Motörhead fans only really listen to Ace of Spades, which is one of the band’s more straight-ahead records, that they miss out on this weird side. But anyway, a great song, one of many; personally, I wish they’d put it back in the set, it would be cool to hear fucking 63 year old Lemmy singing ‘but they could never last this long!’ He wrote that in 1979, he’d been in the business for well over ten years by then – I guess he’s in some sort of a phase… he’ll surely grow out of it.
Then, of course, you get the title track. This song makes me really happy. Honestly, I don’t think I could be any happier than this. The only person in the world happier than me when this song’s playing would be – hypothetically, at least – your standard “INGURLAND” football hooligan if he were given a lifetime supply of the Daily Star and shite lager. But in addition to this the said hooligan would be given a solution to the ‘immigration problem’, all his feral children would be taken into care by the RSPCA, and Jade Goody would be his own personal guardian angel. I’m that happy when this song is playing. Not just happy, but full-on dribble on myself happy. You could put it in layman’s terms and explain how false endings are fantastic and continuous double bass was certainly very exciting back in 1979, but you wouldn’t really be doing it any justice. Honestly, if there’s a song that sums up what rock music’s all about it’s been hiding itself pretty well.
What more could you possibly ask for? Another apologetic score-settling fanboy review, perchance? Well, to round up all the odds and sods: this is the first truly classic Motörhead record – it’s still a very bluesy animal, but you know there are only some many notes, and this album features a lot of blue ones. You could learn to love this or work around it, do so or you’re probably listening to the wrong style of music. Again.
* I’m not talking about the cover of ‘Louie Louie’ here, although I do love that song. I guess I’d have to with the amount of gigs I’ve played that end in a 15 minute ‘Louie Louie’/ ‘Wild Thing’ medley. Again, it’s all about subtle variation.