Here’s one I’ve really not listened to for a very long time, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years the 1988 soundtrack to the Penelope Spheeris film of the same name. I saw the film once back in the day and remember being vaguely embarrassed by it, was my dad watching it with me? can’t quite remember. I have dim memories of various metal icons, some A-list, most B-list or below, spouting nonsense and behaving in a mostly non-dignified manner – was I really that prissy at 17? or was I really watching it with a parent? It’s not available on DVD so I’m afraid vague cider-fogged memories are all I have to go on.
I bought the LP on Valentine’s day 1989 for myself, sadly not having a suitably hard lovin’ woman* to lavish my dish-washing money on, 80% for the live Faster Pussycat track and 20% for a version of ‘Under My Wheels’ by Alice Cooper featuring Axl, Slash and Izzy from, oh you know that band from 1980’s. Anything else which might have been listenable would be a bonus. Which is just as well, as I didn’t find too much else I did like amongst these grooves at the time.
First things first, shorn of the visual entertainment value of Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P pouring vodka over his head whilst swearing at his mum, Paul Stanley surrounded by lingerie models and Ozzy Osbourne (pre-cuddly family friendly version) trying to make a cooked breakfast in a kimono I remember (?) and spilling it all over the place due to DTs**, we’re left with the music alone; as well as little sound bites by the likes of Alice Cooper (ruminating on the origins of the term headbanger), Gene Simmons (‘Sex and Rock and roll, the American Way!’^), Rikki Rockett (some nonsense about girls) and Steven Tyler (lifestyle advice about always wearing a rubber and not ding drugs…hmm). So how about Lizzy Borden, Rigor Mortis, Seduce and Metal Church then?
First up the Alice ‘n’ Roses track is a good one, basically a glorified demo quality track sounding like it was knocked out in an afternoon with some interesting vocal ad-libs and guitar flourishes. If you’re a fan of either party it really is well worth a listen, not a patch on the original of course, but very little beats the original Alice Cooper band in my opinion, old fart that I am. The main attraction for me then was the live version of ‘Bathroom Wall’ by Faster Pussycat and hey I still like it, it makes me wish they’d kept a little of the punky energy of this track in their music later on – I mean come on, who can resist a song which ends,
Got your number off the bathroom wall
And I decided it was about time I made the call
Got your number off the bathroom wall
Boy Am I lucky that I didn’t use the other stall
Not me, still. The ruffians even swear a bit on this version too! Shocking stuff, you can actually hear Western civilization audibly declining a bit during this track. True story.
I have a soft spot for the Armoured saint rarity ‘You Can Run But You Can’t Hide’, pretty straight-ahead metal with conspicuously good vocals. I never followed this up and bought anything else by them, but I really enjoyed John Bush’ stint singing in Anthrax. Lizzy Borden’s live cover of ‘Born to be Wild’ is pretty functional, basically a competent band doing what they needed to for a payday – in the dregs of my memory I vaguely recall some Dee-Snider-without-the-humour brand of theatricality though, so this is probably better on vinyl than VHS.
Megadeth’s ‘In My Darkest Hour’ misses the spot for me, I find the production a bit, umm, splashy and tinny (apologies if my highly technical analysis leaves you behind a bit here), although Dave Mustaine provides the image for the cover of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (how I love to type that). Queensrÿche ‘The Prophecy’ is up next and I think I’m right in calling it a bit of a rarity, I’m not much of an expert on them, I know it was re-recorded later. Again, it doesn’t do a huge amount for me, almost sounding like a bit of an Iron Maiden impersonation – I’m guessing they hadn’t found themselves by that point.
Metal Church ‘The Brave’, is much better to my ears, a good deep churning riff albeit with the occasional off-key old-school metal scream, just like Grandma used to bake. Rigor Mortis ‘Foaming At the Mouth’ is next up and everything accelerates up to early Slayer speed, I hated it then and quite like it now, it’s no lost classic though the treble-heavy production saw to that. Last track Seduce ‘Colleen’ is an unremarkable one, maybe you could characterize them as a heavier, more competent Motley Crüe without any of the charisma.
So you’ve basically got the usual metal compilation mix of the good, the average and the skip-to-the-next-track worthy, I’ve yet to hear a really good metal comp which plays well as an LP from start to finish and actually sounds like an LP, as opposed to a rag-bag of tracks thrown together. Maybe metal is too broad a (metal) church to corral and compile easily like that.
But I’ve cheated a bit here, the third track on the LP, the one I’ve carefully concealed from you until now, is the one that had the most lasting effect on me, Motörhead ‘Cradle to the Grave’, it’s sheet metal riff^^ just triggered something in me all those years ago. It’s the reason I sought out further ‘head tracks out and one of the things that got me into heavier music full stop, hell if it wasn’t for Lemmy and the boys here I may have ended up the sort of fluffy-haired poseur that baulked at Dokken for being too heavy, or at least until I ran out of my allotted hair time on Earth. I don’t know whether I’m over-stating it a bit, or getting a bit chauvinistic, but Motörhead really do bring a bit of British grit and aggravation to the party here, which does scatter some of the flimsier Hollywood posturing to the four winds.
You’ve been living on a razors edge, soon as you learn to shave,
Make sure you live, be a long time dead,
Cradle To The Grave
Never mind the decline of Western civilization – you could build a new one based on that wisdom. Let’s get to it folks.
*or wild-eyed gypsy dancer, if you prefer the Ronnie James Dio brand of wanton womanhood.
**faked apparently. I’m guessing it was stunt orange juice.
^It was pretty big in Wales too, boyo.
^^no, that’s not me putting on a Mexican accent.