Album Review: Motörhead – Motörhead 1979
In the biopic Lemmy, released in 2010, Metallica frontman James Hetfield offers an assessment of the influence Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister has had on his own musical life. “I’d never heard singing like that on album before,” he says. “I didn’t even know you could sing like that.” Which is to say that Motörhead, for many, were are a force like no other: they were the world’s first punk-metal band. Like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, they served up music without varnish, but also with a great deal of heaviness, volume and aggression, and their feral energies, in this case, gave the world Metallica, Slayer and everything that followed.
Motörhead 1979 is a collection that chronicles the band’s busiest year. The final 12 months of the decade saw the trio release two studio albums – the deathless Overkill and Bomber – both of which are featured here, not to mention a bounty of live tracks and alternative cuts. Joining Lemmy during these tours of duty were guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and drummer ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, a man who once completed a tour playing his instrument with a drumstick gaffa-taped to a hand that he’d broken in a fight. One music paper described them as ‘the best worst band in the world,’ while Lemmy opined that if Motörhead moved in next door your lawn would die. Ed Sheeran they were not.
As heard here, it’s intoxicating stuff. Some of these songs – Overkill, Bomber, Stay Clean, Capricorn, No Class and Metropolis – would be captured in their definitive versions two years later on the live album No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, the finest concert record of all time. But even in their original forms, recorded to a budget that would have been the opposite of lavish, Motörhead sound like the band who never once told their audience a lie. The playing is blurry and powerful, as are its sentiments. ‘The only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud’ is the credo of Overkill, a song so good that it directly inspired thrash metal’s frenzied drumming. And while the quality of the bonus material here may be varied – some of the live entries are, shall we say, a bit scratchy – it is the work of a band who were unbiddable and incorruptible.
In other words, Motörhead were outlaws. Even in 1979 – even, probably, at birth – Lemmy was already the fully-formed icon that he would be recognised as being in the later years of his life. As he sings on Capricorn, ‘I always knew the only way / Is never live beyond today / They proved me right / They proved me wrong / But they could never last this long’. Beat that.
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