Album Review: Motörhead – BAD MAGIC

Erik Harshman

Well, the new Motörhead album is just that… A Motörhead album. Nothing less, nothing more. Which can be a good thing or a bad thing (like most things in life), depending on the situation and your perspective.

See, for me Motörhead albums fall into one of three categories: those where the album is almost entirely good (as is the case with Aftershock, Sacrifice, Bastards and Inferno), those where the album only has a handful (1-3) of good songs on it (as is the case with Overnight Sensation and Snake Bite Love) and the rare case when the album is simply terrible (as is the case, for me, with The World is Yours). I believe Bad Magic to fall into the middle category. I only have three songs from the album in my self-made “Best of Motörhead” playlist on iTunes. Those songs are: “The Devil”, “When the Sky Comes Looking For You” and their cover of the Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil”.

Now, I hesitate to even speak the following words, as, sadly, I am sure Lemmy will not make it through the end of the year (and I fear he will be another amongst our great losses of 2015, alongside B.B King, Christopher Lee and Wes Craven… Which is odd, as both Lemmy and Wes Craven added loving comments in tribute, to one of their primary inspirations, to the liner notes for the box set of The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper). But Lem would want nothing but booze-soaked truth, and here it is.

Most of the songs on Bad Magic are, regrettably, forgettable. Either they are (in my humble view) failed attempts at anthems (which comes across more annoying than empowering) or they are so typically Motörhead that they carry the burden of “been there, done that” about them. Just like seeing a live Motörhead show, these songs seems to coalesce together until you can’t tell one from the other and you don’t know when one begins and the other ends. I wish I could say differently, but this is simply what the album said to me upon my two or three listens.

Motörhead - BAD MAGIC album cover art [image courtesy of UDR Music]
Motörhead – BAD MAGIC album cover art [image courtesy of UDR Music]
As for what qualifies me to make such brash assertions, I do consider myself a rather ardent Motörhead enthusiastic: I’ve seen the band five times live, I’ve read Lemmy’s autobiography (White Line Fever), I’ve seen the documentary Lemmy and buy (well, burn) their albums the moment they come out… Motörhead (along with The ‘Coop, AC/DC, Aerosmith and assorted modern and retro thrash/death metal) could very well be my comfort music. My aforementioned Motörhead playlist is 52 songs long (though how many of those songs I actually listen to regularly is another issue) and is 3 hours and 17 minutes long. I begin each morning listening to Motörhead’s bluesy meditation on the workforce, “Joy of Labour”, off Snake Bite Love, on my way to work. Pretentious as it may sound, I consider myself infinitely more of a Motörhead fan than most of those pseudo-punk, counter-culture tourist douchebags who play “Ace of Spades” every time they find it on the jukebox of a new “punk” dive bar. These loathsome subhuman putzes (they of the offensive pompadour, knit cowboy/bowling shirt and the lens-less Buddy Holly glasses) enjoy Motörhead for its punk/rockabilly street cred (the former of which I understand, the later of which I’m still trying to figure out… I guess ‘cuz Lem likes cowboy hats & boots…???), probably only own a “Best Of…” Motörhead album and only begrudgingly enjoy some metal that possesses crossover appeal (Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, G.W.A.R., Guns’n’Roses, Motley Crue, etc.). I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sick of sharing Motörhead with these culturally-confused snobs… But I digress.

Back to the album.

It kills me that this might be Motörhead’s last album and their last tour and here I have very little complimentary things to say about the album. However, thankfully, there is some good. The three songs that stand out are amazing. “The Devil” is a dirty pounding rock number (hopefully) destine to be played late at night in dark, smoky dives where miscreants in leather swill booze and hunt for mates. “When The Sky Comes Looking For You” is a rollicking composition that’s so joyful and swinging that toe tapping and head banging will be impossible. “Sympathy For the Devil” is a curious one; I’m used to Lem covering less contemporary music: Neil Young (“Cinnamon Girl”), The Kingsmen (“Louie, Louie”) and Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues”). I would say that the Stones are a bit too poppy for Lem to cover, but the above-mentioned covers were largely bubblegum top 40’s of their time. It’s simply odd to think that a stadium rock giant such as the Stones would be someone Lem (who is consistently a small venue soldier) would want to cover. But alas, it has happened; and it is a thing of beauty. Motörhead ads the appropriate amount of thrash to this otherwise pop classic rock song and, let’s face it, for most of us, Lem has improved the song and modified it for our enjoyment (even if he left in the “woo-woo-who-who”). It is a no doubt strange, but inspired, way for Lem to end this album.

Motörhead lineup [left to right]: Phil "Wizzo" Campbell (guitar, backing vocals), Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister (lead vocals, bass guitar), Mikky Dee (drums)
Motörhead lineup [left to right]: Phil “Wizzo” Campbell (guitar, backing vocals), Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister (lead vocals, bass guitar), Mikky Dee (drums) [image courtesy of imotorhead.com]
However, sad is the fact that I will probably never get to hear the songs I love off Bad Magic live. Perhaps even sadder is the fact that, even if Lem lives for another thirty years, I probably still wouldn’t get to hear those songs live. Each time I see Motörhead live, I can only make out a handful of discernable songs and most of the show simply blurs together with either incomprehensible sound or Lem’s garbled, heavy British accent. I can only make out “Ace of Spades” (which is sad, as Lemmy is very frustrated by that song’s overshadowing popularity, the fact that it seems to have defined their career and the fact that most people only know that song when it comes to Motörhead) and a few others. I often wonder if Motörhead (much as I suspect Ozzy and Alice Cooper) puts out new album simply to fulfill a record company contract so that they’ll fund their tours (which are essentially “Greatest Hits” tours) and they can go out and play the songs they truthfully love to live audiences. I don’t know if that is the case with Motörhead, as Lem seems increasingly proud of each new album, puts painstaking effort into each album’s lyrics & musical construction and seems to want fans to embrace each new album (and forget about “Ace of Spades”). But, alas, we will never know if this theory is true and if Lemmy will actually break character and begin playing some songs we’ve never heard before live (I’d love to hear “Born to Raise Hell”, “I’m the Man”, “In the Year of the Wolf”, “Smiling Like A Killer”, “Joy of Labour”, “Love Can’t Buy You Money”, “Sacrifice”, “Sex and Death”  and “Overnight Sensation” live).

Hopefully, Lemmy will live on and let us know himself.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (C-/C)

Recommended If You Like: Clutch, Volbeat, Down, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Alice Cooper

Bad Magic is available now on UDR Music.

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