Mötley Crüe – Theatre of Pain (1985)

For my latest “High-Speed Dub Review,” I do a quick down and dirty look back at an album in my collection that impacted my youth. The intent isn’t to go super in-depth on each track, give a mini-biography on the artist, or offer a thesis on their cultural impact (if any was actually made). Simply put, it’s just a record I haven’t revisited in a long time, and I felt like listening to it because I wanted to express either my love for or see if the music still holds up 30+ years later. The subject of this “High-Speed Dub Review” is Mötley Crüe’s Theatre of Pain.

A recent viewing of the Netflix movie based on Mötley Crüe’s memoir, “The Dirt,” made me a little nostalgic for the hair/glam metal bands of the 80s that I used to listen to pretty intensely from about 1985 to 1988. As a pre-teen, I was a rabid consumer of MTV glitter, guy-liner, girls (girls, girls), and debauchery that these bands represented and seemingly lived day-to-day. What small town, middle-classed 12-year-old wouldn’t think that this lifestyle wasn’t the most remarkable thing imaginable? Sure, I wasn’t aware of the rampant hard drug use, the (assumed) sexually transmitted diseases, the filthy living conditions in overcrowded homes while paying dues, or the vehicular manslaughter charges and near-death heroin overdoses that the book and film depict, but no matter. Bands like Mötley Crüe had the look, the sound, and the lifestyle that millions of kids and young adults were drawn to.

Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee

Before I got into bands like Poison, Guns n’ Roses, Whitesnake, White Lion, Cinderella, Bon Jovi, et al., I was into Mötley Crüe. Def Leppard and Quiet Riot introduced me to the pop-metal genre with their Pyromania and Metal Health albums in 1983. Still, those were introduced to me through my sister, and only their hit singles that year (“Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” “Bang Your Head”) made it to my ears. It was Mötley Crüe’s third album, Theatre of Pain, that I latched onto for myself thanks to the MTV and radio exposure of the band’s first top 20 hit, “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”

That song, a remake of a Brownsville Station 1973 hit, was safe and familiar enough for mainstream radio and sent Mötley Crüe into the homes and ears of many new fans. I may (or may not have) seen videos for “Looks That Kill” or “Too Young To Fall In Love” before “Smokin’…” but this was the track that sent me on a short-lived but very intense course with Glam/Hair-Metal music. I don’t necessarily think Theatre of Pain (what’s up with the British spelling of theater?) has aged well, and it’s not the band’s best album, in my opinion. However, it still has a few solid tracks that showcase their transition from heavy metal to pop/glam metal and subsequent super-stardom.

Nikki Sixx, the band’s bassist, was also the primary lyricist and songwriter. He is credited for all of the album’s lyrics & music, except for “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” Additional musical co-credits go to Vince Neil on “City Boy Blues,” “Tonight,” & “Save Our Souls.” Lead guitarist Mick Mars receives co-credits with Sixx and Neil on “City Boy Blues” and Sixx on “Fight For Your Rights.” Drummer Tommy Lee receives co-credits with Sixx on “Home Sweet Home,” and the entire band is credited on “Use It or Lose It.”

My original cassette copy of Theatre of Pain from 1985-86.

City Boy Blues (3.5/5) – Times are tough for a country boy in the big city. A strong, hard-driving opener, but the subtle change in sound is already noticeable to fans of the Crüe’s first two albums.

Smokin’ In The Boys Room (3.5/5) – The perfect song to catapult them into the mainstream. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a great song or an excellent choice for a band that oozed danger before this somewhat neutered track.

Louder Than Hell (4/5) – This groove is more similar to what they’ve done in the past, and the arrangement is solid, as is Neil’s singing and Mars’ guitar licks. Great song. Lyrics are a precursor to what Gn’R would do on “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Keep Your Eye On The Money (2.5/5) – A poppy chorus and a riff that seems a bit recycled keep this track from making an impression.

Home Sweet Home (5/5) – The only real standout on the album. There’s a reason that this a-typical ballad ended up being one of their most enduring tracks. It’s relatable, it’s perfect for lighter waving, and it’s actually a very good song despite its over-sentimentality. Oh yeah, the Mick Mars guitar solo is spectacular.

Tonight (We Need A Lover) (3/5) – Typical eye-rolling 80s-rock innuendos (“slide down my knees, taste my sword”) keep this song from being anything more than a lark.

Use It Or Lose It (2.5/5) – The Crüe’s guitars go a bit faster towards speed-metal on this deep cut. It’s a short but sweet track that’s pretty forgettable overall, much like this album.

Save Our Souls (3/5) – The gang feels a bit redemptive on this mid-tempo plea for forgiveness for the hard-rock lifestyle transgressions.

Raise Your Hands To Rock (2/5) – A cliche-ridden plea for radio that never was. At least the band shows their teeth towards the song’s conclusion. Pretty much a paint by numbers 80s pop-metal number.

Fight For Your Rights (3.5/5) – The Crüe get political (“Martin Luther brought the truth,” “You can’t hold a man’s soul by the color of his keys”), which will always win me over, no matter how it’s executed. Strong close to the album.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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