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Motorhead
The World Is Yours Mick Middles , January 20th, 2011 12:46

There is a classic Melody Maker cover shot, circa '74, which depicted Lemmy astride a Harley Davidson. Behind him, the crumbling grandeur of Notting Hill and – memory tells me, though it could be my imagination – a few tentative looking females. At the time it seemed preposterously fashionable. This man, who supplied vocals on Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine', seemingly at home amid the Bohemian setting that seemed evocative of London counter-culture. At the same time, and back in Stockport, people would squint at the photo and ask: "Aint that the guy from the Rocking Vicars?" Indeed it was. Lemmy had cut his chops on the tail end of Merseybeat and now seemed lost to somewhat more glamorous existence.

Famously, he would soon be jettisoned from the fractious beast of Hawkwind and would form a band of a more direct, simplistic nature. Initially called Bastard, this three-piece would morph into Motorhead. Perfect name too, immediately cementing the band to the dreams of bikers across the world... this new band, oily tough and proudly grebo. Motorhead! You didn't even need to hear them to grasp that sound.

Motorhead became a rolling rock soap. Even in the skint early years, they seemed swirled about by legend. One might hear of them performing at – bizarrely enough, this is true – Wigan Casino, the band piling gargantuan but empty speakers on the stage because they 'looked loud'.

By chance, perhaps? By natural dynamic, Motorhead immediately hit formula. Lemmy's glorious growl and unique bass playing – basically playing and feeling the instrument as a lead guitar – provided the heavy speed rush that, more good fortune here, would transcend the threat of punk. Lemmy's extreme musicality was neatly enhanced by Fast Eddie Clarke's buzz guitar and the thunder drums of Phil 'Animal' Taylor. This became the classic Motorhead line up... considerable musicians dumbing down to bombastic effect.

When The Damned performed as support act on the Motorhead British tour, the unofficial deal was duly sealed. Punks and rockers together on the front row... while the more pretentious post punk NME scribes might have scoffed at the time, the more open minded followers accepted Motorhead for exactly what it was. A raucous rock'n'roll circus... a lovely tumble of conservative hedonism. Afterhows like you had never seen, particularly on the celebrated Motorhead/Girlschool... the memory of which is blurred to this very day.

The problem was, of course, that Motorhead's simplistic natural and unique formula proved both a strength and a weakness. They were cleverly cosseted, in the early days, by the unique marketing drive of Bronze Records. Gerry Bron, in particular, showing rare intelligence by allowing the idiosyncratic nature of the band dynamic to evolve with minimal A&R interference. The problem... THEIR problem, would mirror that of The Ramones. Once established within that instant and distinctive noise... Just how could this speed frenzy actually go anywhere?

It is perhaps unfair to mull on this. For everybody knows and seems to cherish that Motorhead trademark noise. Many however believe – and I have been among these – who have held the belief that once past the 1981's No Sleep til Hammersmith live album; once beyond the 'Ace of Spades' single and maybe their touching liaison with Girlschool, Motorhead have been placed in a corner. Glimpsed at loving every now and again, but hardly moving in any given direction.

It's an understandable assumption. I received a phone call from a friend, this week, who asked me what I had been listening to. When I told him "The new Motorhead album," he asked, "Oh... what's that like?"

"What's it like?" I chided. "It's bloody Motorhead."

It was only then that I realised. I had fallen into that same trap. Strange thing is that, even then, I had started to succumb to the not inconsiderable charms of The World is Yours. Naturally, from the first second of the opener, 'Born to Lose' to the defiant closing 'Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye' – which, ok, isn't going to gain the rad-fem vote- this remains firmly in furrow. But there is something else... and it has been lacking in recent years, in Motorhead and beyond. It's such a simple thing, too... that channelling of pure and driven anger. Defying the passing of time without softening and breaking the hearts of the diehards or becoming lost in a confused dynamic (Metallica of St Anger). No easy feat, especially as the sad passing of Phillip Campbell's father meant that he had to record in Wales while Lemmy and Dee beavered away in Los Angeles. Not quite the perfect scenario for a band attempting to capture that fading freshness.

It wasn't looking too good. Even if the arrival of this album, initially clasped to the cover of Classic Rock, would be surrounded by a suspiciously co- ordinated 'Lemmy as rock icon' re-selling. My first instinct was to pull back. We all know just who has been paying the tax bills of Rotten and Pop of late. Would the Lemster be next?

I am not sure quite what it is that angers Lemmy, these days. Possibly the three decades that separate him from his ideal world, a 1979 when everything seemed possible and probable. For there is a certain nostalgia built into these songs. "Things are not the way they used to be, my friend," he drawls during 'Get Back in Line'. Despite this and somewhat miraculously, it is not a nostalgia of the misty eyed variety. For this is never less than a ferocious backward glance and, whereas previous Motorhead outings of the past decade might have seemed somewhat forced... this is the sound of a beast unleashed... again and again and again.

The aforementioned 'Born to Lose' sets the tone, although Lemmy's ironic vocals are spoken, rather than hurled, the song title almost tripping apologetically off his tongue. It's an acceptance, of sorts, of the way things happen to be. Once past that, it's time for the big boys to start to play. And that is precisely what happens here. While the outside world might now seem a cold, alienating place, within the tall, thick walls of Motorhead, everything is as it should be. This is celebrated most absurdly in 'Rock'n'Roll Music', in which Lemmy screams, "Rock'n' Roll Music is the true religion... " It's like something pulled directly from the puerile extremes of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. And yet here it dispatched with a delicious twist. In short, Lemmy no longer gives a fuck. That's the message the repeatedly thunders from the speakers.

Four plays in and I am particularly fond of 'Outlaw'; where the three key musicians wrestle a cacophony from the jaws of melody at the start of every verse. Not without irony, perhaps, it is nonetheless gloriously... gloriously free. The prevailing air is one of a band who have crossed the boundaries and can never return. There is no pressure there. No laws to obey. No lucrative path to follow.

I like to think of Metallica listening to this, as they have listened to Motorhead before, in a state of awe and, hopefully, duly inspired. All the re-selling in the world will not change a thing. This is how it should be done.

Well, never before have the rules of genre seemed so disappointingly powerful. (Just listen, if you can bear it, to the Brits nominees). But Motorhead thunder on. That fact just has to make you smile. This is at least as good as anything they have unleashed in 30 years. They are not as daft as the hype so often suggest. A canny wink in that Lemmy eye. Thunder on until, the end.

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