Why this is my favourite Motörhead album, and a look at why it was their biggest flop.
It’s 1993. The rock world has been taken by storm by new bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Smashing Pumpkins. In Metal, bands like Metallica, Pantera, and Slayer are taking over from the glam rock of the 80s. Metal pioneers like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden are releasing some of their heaviest albums in their massive discographies.
Motörhead followed up their acclaimed album ‘1916’ with the critically panned ‘March ör Die’ in 1992. It was a time of transition for Motörhead. I doubt Lemmy was too concerned about the success of ‘Nevermind’ or the ‘Black Album’. Motörhead had more in common with the harder sounding rock bands of the day, as they had actually served as role models and inspiration for them. But both the rock world and the band were in flux. The rock world had little time for flashy rock operas and orchestral backing (apart from Guns n Roses, but that bubble was about to pop). Original Motörhead drummer Phil Taylor had finally left the band after a few years of being fired and coming back. ‘March ör Die’ even featured guest performers Ozzy Osbourne and Slash. In trying to sound more commercial they unwittingly became like the bands that were quickly going out of fashion.
The reaction to this was an explosively loud, rage-filled, fast riffed album that clocked in at over 47 minutes long. The lyrics featured subject matter like war, rock n roll lifestyles, civil unrest, and even child abuse. It wasn’t the first album Motörhead recorded as a four piece but it’s probably the heaviest.
As a teenager I loved this album. The single ‘Burner’ was on pretty steady rotation on the music channels. I quickly acquired the album on cassette and it was played alongside the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, and Pantera.
The album is full of heavy bangers like this. Motörhead started life as a three piece band (aka a Power Trio). The original line up of Phil Taylor, Eddie Clarke, and Lemmy released the legendary albums ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, and ‘Ace of Spades’, that were released within a frenetic two year period in 79/80. They created a heavy look and sound that would birth the genres of speed, thrash, and death metal. ‘Bastards’ was their eleventh studio album and should have sold by the truck load. By now they were a four piece, having added second guitar players Wurzel and Phil Campbell on their seventh album ‘Orgasmatron’ (Clarke and Taylor had long since departed). With Mickey Dee on drums, many felt this new version of the band could be the definitive one. A couple of things went very wrong.
Motörhead had suffered quite a bit at the hands of record labels over the years. I can’t imagine anyone telling Lemmy how Motörhead should sound, or demanding they release compilation albums… but it happened. Motörhead decided to join independent German record label ZYX. ZYX did a superb job of allowing Motörhead the freedom to make a really hard sounding album. There was little to no objection to the title of the album and the artwork was on point. ZYX even promoted the album as best they could. Unfortunately “as best they could” meant inside Germany to the point of the album not reaching any other markets.
Today, this probably wouldn’t matter with the reach of social media. But back in the 90s, this was disastrous. The album didn't exactly bomb, it was worse than that, people just couldn’t get it. I got a black market copy on cassette, so I wasn’t aware of any of this. Last year I picked up the vinyl, new, for around 10 euro.
It’s nuts. While the trio of ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, and ‘Ace of Spades’ are rightly lauded as the golden era of Motörhead, I can’t be alone in feeling ‘Bastards’ was perhaps their peak.
The first five tracks are as good an ‘A’ Side as any hard rock album recorded. Death Or Glory and Born to Raise Hell being particular bangers.
Track 6 sees Lemmy alone on acoustic guitar with the shocking ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me’, a dirge detailing child abuse. Lemmy originally wrote this with a female vocalist in mind, but wound up recording it himself. It’s one of those times where an artist made the absolutely correct decision and the track is tender, heartbreaking, and incredibly sad. It’s basically un-coverable.
The one track that did have some success from the album was ‘Born to Raise Hell’. This tune has featured on several movie soundtracks, including one of the Hellraiser sequels. A reworking of the song featured in the movie Airheads and featured Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) and Ice-T sharing vocals with Lemmy. It’s a blast, but not the legacy Motörhead deserved for that album.
Motörhead regarded ‘Bastards’ as a creative high point in their careers, and while they were happy with how it sounded, they were unsurprisingly disappointed at its commercial failure. Phil Campbell, one of the surviving member of Motörhead rates it as his favourite album also: “that one, it'll bring your ceiling down.”
Did you manage to grab a copy of ‘Bastards’? Do you have a favourite Motörhead album? Drop a comment below!
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