21 Years Ago: Motley Crue Struggle to Move Forward with ‘Motley Crue’
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In 1992, with the biggest record of their career behind them and 25 million of Elektra Records’ dollars in the bank, Motley Crue seemed poised to scale even greater heights. Instead, they suddenly found themselves in need of a new singer.
Shortly into the sessions for what was supposed to be the follow-up to 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, internal disagreements led to the departure of vocalist Vince Neil, leaving drummer Tommy Lee, guitarist Mick Mars, and bassist Nikki Sixx without a voice for their new songs. Following a brief search (during which Skid Row‘s Sebastian Bach may or may not have been asked to join the lineup), they hooked up with John Corabi, frontman for the Scream.
Although they initially hid the news of Corabi’s hiring from Elektra, fearing the label might try to redefine the terms of their contract, his arrival added some welcome new ingredients to the band’s multi-platinum sound. Not only did Corabi bring a markedly different vocal sound, he also contributed lyrics and guitar — weapons that were not really part of Neil’s arsenal.
“It was a pretty natural evolution when John came in to audition,” Lee told MTV just after the album’s release. “We were looking for a singer. He came in, strapped on a guitar, and we were like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ … All of a sudden the sound got twice as fat, and all these things just started coming.”
Unfortunately, when Motley Crue dropped on March 15, 1994, rock radio was in the middle of a major overhaul. “You have all the guys with their goatees and Doc Martens. It’s more of a fashion movement than a musical movement right now, I think,” Sixx grumbled during the MTV interview. There were probably a few sour grapes in there, but bands of Crue’s vintage definitely had a harder time breaking heavy rotation at the time.
It also didn’t help that WEA — the distribution conglomerate behind Elektra, Warner Bros., and Atlantic — was also in the midst of executive turmoil, with the chairmen at various WEA labels being forced to turn in their keys to the executive washroom repeatedly during the mid-’90s. Elektra was no exception, which doubtless diverted focus from promotional efforts for Motley Crue — a record which already faced a tough road with fans thanks to Neil’s absence.
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“It’s so sad that we’re not allowed to grow,” lamented Sixx in a 1995 interview following the release of Motley Crue. “It’s important in life to grow.” And although the record broke the Top 10 and spun off a couple of rock radio hits, it’s easy to understand his frustration. Motley Crue only went gold, a steep comedown from its chart-topping predecessor, and rumors of Neil’s return proved annoyingly persistent.
Corabi was still in the lineup when the band returned to the studio for its seventh studio album, which Sixx promised would be “a cross-breed between the last album and something with big grooves like Dr. Feelgood or Shout at the Devil, but with a stripped-down feel, played in its raw form.”
Sixx went on to hint at the problems that would ultimately lead to Corabi’s quick departure from the band, describing him as “pissed off at the negative things people have said about him” and adding that he was “f–ing determined to be the best singer, best guitar player, best f–ing frontman. … Now, we’re obsessed with making this the most invigorating album Motley have ever done.”
Unfortunately, not long after that interview, Corabi was out and Neil was back in — the fallout from years of pressure from Elektra and the band’s inability to move out of the shadow cast by the music they’d created with their former frontman. Corabi admitted he contemplated suicide after losing the gig, and has expressed disappointment regarding his subsequent estrangement from the remaining Crue, but he also seems to have made peace with his efforts in a pretty difficult situation.
“I think deep down that Tommy, Mick and Nikki know that we made a great record together,” he later told Rock Revolt. “Is it their best record? I’m not going to be the one to say that, but for that time period and time frame, I think we made something really special. … Anyone can think whatever the f– they want to about me, but the bottom line is I dare any one of those f–ers who … hate me, I dare any of them to do anything differently than I did in the same position.”
Corabi has no argument from Mars. “I’ll probably get kicked in the nuts for this,” Mars later told Eddie Trunk. “But I thought is was a really great album. It was a great step forward for us, a different style of music. I thought it was much heavier and much more. I don’t even know how to say it. The songs sounded more like songs. … I thought that album was fantastic.”
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