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Knowingly or not, everyone has listened to Motorhead. If you've watched TV in the last couple of years, you saw a slow version of 'Ace of Spades' being played for Kronenburg 1664 (although Jack Daniels would have been more keeping with the spirit of the band). If you sat down to frown at Shoot 'em Up, you heard 'Ace of Spades'.
'Ace of Spades' is not on this album, so you won't see it in this review again. What you will see is more Motorhead worship, the return of the power trio and the start of the current line-up. If you are unfamiliar with the history of Motorhead, well, that's what Google's for. This is a review by a raving fan, not a history lesson.
So. Bass. Specifically, Lemmy's bass. It is beefy. It is responsible for making this album so heavy, even though not all the material was written that way. It sits in the mix under the guitar, dominating the low frequencies. And it sounds good. It is always felt no matter what else is occuring in the mix, brass-knuckling your guts with the kick drum, beating on you whilst you fall to the floor, especially on an aggressive track like 'Civil War'. The bass doesn't sound sterile, but packs an organic fuzz that becomes apparent on 'Broken' and the title track. In terms of bass lines, Lemmy fills the bottom of the mix with what would probably be the second guitar part, if such a player existed. On 'Crazy Like a Fox' under the harmonica solo, there is a nifty bass line on the higher frets that duels the harmonica, and the bass has other small solos throughout the album which raving fans appreciate and probably pray for (if you're gonna pray, why not do it someone who can get back to you on it?)
Mikkey Dee is alive and winning on this album. He makes 4/4 rock beats that have been around since rock n roll started sound badass. There probably isn't anything on his kit that isn't utilised on the album, with marching kick-snare beats and double-bass assaults broken up with tom fills that spice every song up. The drum sound is immense. The kit is miked up near perfect and everything sounds balanced, sitting perfectly in the mix, not overpowering anything whilst still beating you up for your beer.
However, this album showcases one element in particular. Phil Campbell's guitar sounds perfect. It rivals Slash's tone on 'Appetite for Destruction' as one of the best guitar tones in rock n roll. It is clean, warm and powerful. When it needs to be heavy, it is. When the tempo starts to inflict neck injuries to listeners, the guitar doesn't disintegrate into a muddy mess. When fretboard gymnastics occur, the guitar is alive. But what about the riffs, you ask? The solos? Well, what do you think? They're great. It's debatable whether Phil Campbell enjoyed the pressure of having to come up with all the guitar parts, but they are brilliant. Riffs like 'Love Can't Buy You Money' and 'Shake the World' belong in the catalogue of classic Motorhead riffs. Faster tracks have meaty thrashy riffs that attack the listener; elsewhere, chord slams invade the sonic space and leave lasting bruises in visible parts of the body (tip: don't headbang in tight spaces). On solos, there is a mixture of bluesy shredding with a soaking of wah and uplifting lead sections in which every note is beautiful i.e. the end solo in the title track.
Lemmy's voice on this album is soulful yet aggressive, gruff but genuine, like on every other album. And what the hell were you expecting? The lyrics are well-written as always with social commentary appearing occasionally but without being preachy, with sarcasm and humour also getting involved. There is only one song that has 'serious' lyrics, namely 'I Don't Believe a Word', with its melancholy delivery for which Lemmy doesn't sound like Lemmy for the verses.
All in all, this is a brilliant album. The production is near perfect, the instruments are amazing, and it has two of my favourite songs of all time, and 'Broken' has the poignant line "Must we be expendable, is that what we are for?" So, buy the album. It won't let you regret it.
I couldn't really think of a good closing statement so you'll get this instead. In case you were wondering why this album isn't rated 100% when it is clear that is what it should deserve. It's simple.
I have to be objective somehow.
...Phil asked Howard, who was wearing a shirt that had the number 36 or something on it. "No, why?" "Because I've never seen "cunt" spelled like that before." We got him twice with that and finally he started freaking out - "Why did you hire me, then, if you don't like me!" And Phil said, "Well, you were the only one in our price range." (Lemmy: White Line Fever, p. 263 f.) Now, that has definitely changed by now...
Meanwhile Howard Benson is probably one of the most expensive producers out there and a lot of his success came from producing Nu Metal- and Post-Grunge-bands and that means that he is really good at providing a band with a MASSIVE sound. Hence, he was one of the few producers Motörhead ever had who really made them sound just as they should, plus each of the four albums he produced sounded differently (e.g. hear the huge difference between "Overnight Sensation" and "Sacrifice")! (The four Cameron Webb-produced albums, by comparison, basically all sound the same.)
Production-wise "Overnight Sensation" is Howard Bensons's masterpiece for Motörhead and one of the best Motörhead albums ever - song-wise though, it is a mixed bag. The worst song is also the heaviest song on the album. With some growls "Shake The World" may have worked as a Death Metal song (maybe as some kind of a light version of "God Of Emptiness"), but it doesn't work as it is, and that's also the problem with the three mediocre songs "Civil War", "Eat The Gun" and "Them Not Me", which coincidentally are the fastest tracks on the album. While heavier bands can make up for a certain lack of catchiness or songwriting with heaviness or speed, it has never worked out for Motörhead. (Maybe this would have worked for really fast songs like "See Me Burning" or "Red Raw" on the following albums, but those are great songs anyway...)
The catchy "Love Can't Buy You Money" and the two uptempo songs "Crazy Like A Fox" (more upbeat) and "Murder Show" (more serious) are the three great songs on the album, which finally leaves us with the classics, which are, you may have guessed it, the slowest songs on the album: the three midtempo tracks "Broken", "Overnight Sensation" and the closer "Listen To Your Heart" (with acoustic guitar) and, last but not least, some kind of a Motörhead unicum, "I Don't Believe A Word" - a 6 and a half minute long, slow song - which is no blues and no ballad either.
Especially on these slower songs Howard Benson's production really comes into its own - apart from Vic Maile, for example, no other producer has yet managed to provide Lemmy with such a fantastic bass sound (Tony Platt wasn't bad either though) - and the combination of brilliant songwriting and a brilliant production results in a few of the best songs ever. The rest, i.e. the fast and heavy stuff, is not nearly as good, but in the end "Overnight Sensation" still provides half an hour of the best Motörhead you could wish for.
Motorhead marched on through the 90s releasing yet another ripsnorter of a long player in 1996. Top quality rockin' tunes abound in this ferocious assault on the senses. "Civil War" kicks off the procedings and in usual Motorhead style the opening track is heavy as hell. For me though, the album truly comes to life with the 2nd song, the bluesy "Crazy Like A Fox" complete with furious Phil Campbell riffs and an all too brief Lemmy harmonica solo. He really should play that thing more on their CDs. Next up is "I Don't Believe A Word" which contains arguably Lemmy's greatest and deepest lyrics. It's a slow pased number with haunting vocals and a powerful chorus, not forgetting the doomy bass solo intro.
"Eat The Gun" is a sarcastic rant against America's mental gun laws and the title track is now a live staple and a bonafide Motorhead classic. "Love Can't Buy You Money" deals with the issue of greedy fuckers pretending to be your friend to get in on your cash . "Broken" is another popular live tune, "Them Not Me" is a very funny dig at those who gain pleasure from the misfortune of others and "Murder Show" deals with pretty much the same subject but without the humour.
The last two songs are among the best on the album "Shake The World" is one of the heaviest tracks you'll hear. Reminiscent of "Orgasmatron" and easily as good. The album then closes with the excellent "Listen To Your Heart". It's quite a poppy tune by Motorhead's standards but that shouldn't put you off. It's almost as if this track is the answer to the problems described through most of the other songs.
A masterpiece. Almost as good as "Bastards" but not quite.