ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 9, 2002
By Steve Newton
I’ve always respected Motörhead for what it’s done over the past quarter-century to further the cause of heavy metal, and for its ability to do so, like Rush, within the confines of the power-trio format. But as far as Motörhead albums go, it’s been a while since the band last issued a disc as impressive as the new Hammered. There are at least half a dozen killer songs there, the kind that should get local headbangers salivating big time in anticipation of the group’s rafter-testing gig at the Commodore on Monday (May 13).
But when vocalist-bassist Lemmy Kilmister calls from Royal Oak, Michigan, just outside the Motor City, he offers the shocking news that Motörhead’s only playing one Hammered selection on the current tour. When I express my disappointment, he gruffly asks which songs I would want to hear. I reply that the grittily melodic opener, “Walk a Crooked Line”, might be nice. “Ah, well, see, we can’t do the harmonies on that live,” he counters. Then I speculate that “Voices From the War”, the raging antiwar anthem, might be a good choice. “We tried doin’ that, but we haven’t got it yet,” he relates. My final request for a set-list addition is a vote for the dynamic, trash-talking ear-buster “Shut Your Mouth”. “That’s difficult, too,” he responds, “because we don’t have the keyboards.”
Bummer, man! The latter tune is particularly wicked in a ’70s kinda way, featuring as it does Lemmy growling “Guitar!” just as Philip Campbell tears into a screaming wah-wah solo that climaxes with the raunchy effect of his pick scraping sideways along the strings. Campbell sparkles throughout the disc’s 54 minutes.
“This is his album, really,” concurs Kilmister, who knows a hot guitarist when he hears one. Apart from having recruited former Thin Lizzy axeman Brian Robertson to slash and burn on Motörhead’s 1983 Another Perfect Day, he worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, and got to see him play most every night for eight months straight. So was the esteemed guitar hero as great as they say? “He was better,” says Kilmister, “’cause most of the people writin’ about him now never saw him. He was the best, man, he’s the best you’ll ever have.”
If there’s a rock ’n’ roll heaven (with an open stage), you can bet Kilmister—assuming he makes it to the pearly gates—will be lining up one day right behind Allen Woody, trusty Rickenbacker in hand, to provide the bottom end for Hendrix’s unearthly Stratifications. In the meantime, he’s content to bring the straightforward noise with Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, the duo he’s been with for the past 11 years. Along the way he’s gotten a little help in the studio from unlikely guests, like WWF superstar Triple H, who provides some scary-sounding spoken word on the new disc’s “Serial Killer”.
“We did that song ‘The Game’ for him,” explains Kilmister, “and we promised him at the time that he could be on one of our albums.” “The Game”, Triple H’s prefight theme song, first showed up on the WWF: The Music Vol. 5 compilation. It’s also included as one of two bonus tracks on Hammered, although one wonders why. “I don’t like the song myself,” Kilmister complains with a raspy chuckle. “I didn’t write it—[WWF honcho] Vince Mcfuckin’Mahon wrote it, you can be sure of that. Or somebody in his family.”
While there’s one track on Hammered that Kilmister’s not crazy about, he’s quite proud of Motörhead’s body of recorded work, including the 1991 barnburner 1916. He wasn’t surprised when that CD was nominated for a Grammy Award in ’92. “I was surprised the way they promoted it at the ceremony, though,” he offers. “The only thing they had was a video of us doin’ ‘Angel City’ live, right, and it was fuckin’ terrible, not professional. But then Sony always were assholes, you know.”
Kilmister was also up for a 2000 Grammy for a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, which was recorded with Zebrahead for another WWF compilation. As bogus as the pro wrestling scene is, it has done its part to keep loud music alive, and these days metal needs all the help it can get. According to the L.A.–based Kilmister, while it’s still big in ’banger strongholds like Germany and Sweden, metal’s popularity has waned in his native Britain.
“They’re all stuck with rap music,” he says, “same as America is.” Even London’s hallowed Hammersmith Odeon—where Motörhead recorded the #1 U.K. hit No Sleep ’til Hammersmith in ’81—is now off-limits to Marshall stacks. “There’s no gigs anymore at Hammersmith Odeon,” he says. “They have, like, Japanese fuckin’ acrobats and musicals, so it’s a bit of a drag. We usually play the Forum and the Brixton Academy, you know.”
Life hasn’t always been power-trio bluster during Kilmister’s musical career, however. For a while in the early ’70s he was a member of the prog-rock ensemble Hawkwind, which undertook an ill-fated reunion last September.
Hawkwind might not have it together anymore, but Motörhead surely does. Still, Kilmister doesn’t appreciate his band getting too much credit, as in its current Sanctuary Records bio, which claims the group “invented” speed metal.
“I don’t think so,” he stresses. “They’re just tryin’ to find a category to put us in again. Maybe bands like Kreator in Europe started all that; we didn’t play anything like them. I think we ought to have our own category by now. We should be ‘Motörhead music’.”