Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Motorhead - No Sleep "Til Hammersmith

The title hints at the band’s drug of choice during this very prolific and influential period, Motorhead could frequently sound like a fabled British steam engine train, barreling out of control into your inner ear canal. And the dude shoveling coal into the mouth of this motherfucker? Lemmy Kilmister, the man with the locomotive wheel wrist that also serves as the only thing keeping this thing glued to the tracks.

Kilmister is-how should I put it-a homely fellow. And if you can’t picture him shoveling coal into a train’s steam engine, then maybe you can picture him as the miserable lout digging the ore itself from beneath the ground, his daily ordeal a literal deathtrap.

His only dream of breaking free of his hell on Earth? Like Mick Jagger said-probably a dude that Lemmy would like to sucker punch, just on general principle-what can a poor boy do, except to sing for a rock and roll band.

I believe Kilmister appreciates his life, and he probably knows better than anyone else how things could have easily turned out pretty shitty if this rock and roll thing didn’t work out.

Which is why Lemmy doesn’t change the sound of Motorhead. Ever. If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Lemmy Kilmister is smart enough to know that there’s not a goddamn thing wrong with his band.

So confident of his abilities, he walks his bass guitar up to a huge pair of Marshall stacks that were actually designed for instruments with six strings. Lemmy views the bass like a guitar as his pick axe, so he intentionally places audience directly in the path of his occupational hazard by turning all of the tone knobs to “bark” and the volume knob to “pain.” In Lemmy’s mind, your hearing loss is Motorhead’s equivalent to black lung disease.

You will have those who declare Ace Of Spades as the pinnacle of Motorhead’s entire catalog, but the reality is that the live No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith holds up better and is a more clearer portrait of this band’s influence.

It’s a recording of the band’s classic line-up-and let’s not mince words here: we would not be talking about Motorhead or even Lemmy Kilmister if not for the output of this line-up. As much as Lemmy must be afforded with the moniker and as impressive as Motorhead's current line-up is-particularly their longevity-it all begins with some timeless material created by Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor.

I'm sure Kilmister knows this, just as I'm sure he's tired of the whole discussion. But really, the discussion ends here, with the filling-rattling projection captured on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith.  The lack of color in the production is irrelevant, because the entire point of Motorhead-particularly with this set-is that they only set out to capture the primary colors of rock and roll anyway. To Lemmy, rock music was the original generation of stars, the ones where Chuck Berry is the Alpha and the Omega, the Every Brothers his angels, and Little Richard his water-parting Moses.

The power of those early performers are the reason why Lemmy gets on stage and barks the power of rock and roll music in his very unique and groundbreaking way. Meanwhile, the other bands that Motorhead was pegged with during this time of their career had just begun the process of testing the market for bigger audiences.

By the time No Sleep Til Hammersmith was released, metal was fast becoming another commodity of the record labels who were beginning to do everything to tidy up the bands of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for mass consumption.

While others pursued a nice, soft-focused version of the band members specifically created for the large amounts of female audience members that suddenly became interested in the young attractions, Motorhead stuck to their original blueprint.

No Sleep Til Hammersmith is Motorhead’s finest document of their own “fuck off” rebellion. It’s a collection of every one of their notable highpoints and, more importantly, recorded in the setting that is the essential environment to actually hear one of the most important heavy metal bands since the genre was first tagged.

“Fast” Eddie Clarke sounds like he’d be capable of more than what the confines of this power trio could provide him (which may explain why he formed Fastway shortly after this set was recorded), but he knows the gig too well and his blues-inspired solos are peppers with gnarly feedback, gritty tones, and a general attitude which serves the band flawlessly.

Phil Taylor, on the other hand, keeps things going at a breakneck speed, leaning heavy on the hit-hat, snare and bass drums for emphasis and occasionally slopping together a fill which frequently find him missing a beat before returning to the comforts of his aforementioned focus. It’s flawed, it speeds up, in other words-it’s perfect.

Then there’s the commander, Lemmy, who introduces nearly each song with a dedication and who is blessed with an everyman’s mantra of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Blessed with a limited vocal range and an even more limited amount of good looks, he became the frontman that any sap working a factory floor could relate too.

But it was through his narrow musical vision where Lemmy tapped an oil well of creative inspiration, striking a blend of early rock rebellion with speed...literally...all wonderfully captured on No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith.

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