If you go to a show on Mötley Crüe's current tour, you aren't so much seeing Mötley Crüe as a Broadway musical version of Mötley Crüe. The band members won't be snorting lines and molesting groupies when they go offstage, but they'll be singing about how they used to snort lines and molest groupies. It's a bizarre celebration of debauchery without any actual debauchery
Perhaps that's not surprising. The band's legacy will always be its backstage antics, even more so than its classic pop-metal albums Shout at the Devil and Dr. Feelgood. At the height of their '80s infamy, there wasn't anything the guys wouldn't drink or stick their dicks into, and the whole thing was gloriously chronicled in their 2001 best-selling tell-all autobiography, The Dirt. Sample: "Vince [Neil] had taped pictures from porno magazines all over the wall, and girls were streaming in and out of the studio, getting fucked with microphones in the control room, bottles in the kitchen, and broom handles in the closet because we were running out of ideas of what to do with them."
With lead guitarist Mick Mars in poor health and an astonishing 57 years old, it's understandable that the Crüe has dialed things down a notch. Age, bouts with rehab, and family responsibilities have conspired to limit the drugs and group sex nowadays. But the distressing thing is that even as the guys mature, they're milking their former hedonism like never before in an attempt to stay relevant (and flush with cash).
The band's new album, Saints of Los Angeles — the first featuring all the original members since 1997's Generation Swine — is essentially a musical remake of The Dirt. It's a song-by-song chronicling of the members' days of debauchery, from coming up on the Sunset Strip ("Down at the Whisky") to their various failed centerfold romances ("Chicks = Trouble"). This is surely a hair-metal first: an album about a band's own autobiography.
Saints of Los Angeles is also the launching pad for the group's current tour, Crüe Fest, which features Buckcherry, Papa Roach, Trapt, and bassist Nikki Sixx' spinoff band Sixx:A.M. Mötley Crüe has dreams of turning the event into a long-running cash cow along the lines of Ozzfest. It's about "showmanship and it's about lifestyle," Sixx says of the tour on a recent conference call in a telling display of industry buzz-speak. And while he doesn't explicitly detail the lifestyle he refers to, it's clearly the "too drunk to come in a groupie's hair" one. The one they don't practice anymore.
The group has been branching into other facets of the entertainment industry for years now, from the TV series Tommy Lee Goes to College to Sixx' addiction chronicle The Heroin Diaries to, well, various sex tapes. And while it certainly wasn't pretty to watch vocalist Vince Neil get married by MC Hammer on The Surreal Life, at least the band hasn't been confined to the club circuit like many of its peers, playing on cock-rock triple bills before diminishing audiences.
So the Crüe has stayed in the limelight, but at what cost? By repackaging the band's past to sell it to a new generation, its members have robbed themselves of an opportunity to evolve as artists. Don't laugh — they say in The Dirt that their art is important to them. Surely reflecting honestly on their current lives would be a more genuine artistic statement.
It's almost like the Beatles staging their own version of Beatlemania, the Broadway musical that paid homage to the Beatles through impersonators. By focusing on its Theater of Pain days, Mötley Crüe is practically trying to trick audiences into thinking they're not seeing the current, bloated, anachronistic version of the band, but the younger, more relevant one. Unabashed capitalism never feels very rock 'n' roll, and Broadway musicals don't seem Mötley Crüe's style.