Celebrating their 40th year as the world’s loudest 3-piece band, Motorhead released their 22nd studio album, Bad Magic, last week. The bands founding member, and all around rock ‘n’ roll badass, Lemmy Kilmister is only a few months away from turning 70 years young and he’s legitimately seen just about everything. A roadie for Hendrix, a former member of space rock pioneers Hawkwind, and leading Motorhead since the early 70s, Lemmy has lived to tell the tale.
Motorhead has been Motorhead since day one. Never compromising their sound and consistently releasing solid albums over four decades, Motorhead is a world treasure of hard rock/heavy metal. Truth be told, I haven’t heard Motorhead’s last few albums. But, in anticipation of seeing them on their current tour, I picked up Bad Magic.
“Victory or DIE!” Lemmy bellows on the albums opening track, before the guitars and drums join in for a hot mess charge that kicks off the album. His voice is almost the single most recognizable aspect of Motorhead’s sound. At 69 years old, Lemmy’s voice doesn’t sound that different than it did 10-20 years ago. However, it has a certain quality now that gives it a poignancy akin to the voices of Tom Waits or Louis Armstrong.
The albums lead track is followed by 12 more songs, the majority clocking in at three minutes long. While Lemmy remains as the only original member of Motorhead, guitarist Phil Campbell has been around since 84 and drummer Mikkey Dee since 92. Several tracks on the album, such as “Thunder and Lightning,” “Tell Me Who to Kill,” “Electricity,” and “When The Sky Comes Looking For You,” are quintessential Motorhead: they sound like a steam engine barreling down the tracks at full speed. These songs, among others on the album, also have anthemic, sing-a-long choruses perfectly suited for the live show.
“Shout Out All of Your Lights” is a standout track that has a great, almost swing-y bar room chorus and a killer guitar solo. “The Devil” is a classic Motorhead track that probably could have appeared on any of their previous albums, however Queen’s Brian May adds his guitar wizardry with a tight and blistering solo. “Teach Them How to Bleed,” offers a near rockabilly groove and provides Phil “Wizzo” Campbell his moment to shine. Wizzo shreds all over the track as Lemmy and Mikkey Dee supply the backbone. “Till the End,” is the power-ballad of the album. The intro and opening verse sound a lot like a Nick Cave song before it kicks into a boozy chorus. If you didn’t know Lemmy could crank out a great power ballad, you probably also didn’t know he co-wrote Ozzy’s “Mama, I’m Coming Home.”
There are a couple of oddities on the album, such as the muted, electronic processed vocal on “Evil Eye” and Lemmy’s low, guttural roar on “Choking On Your Screams” (easily the heaviest track on the album). There’s only one song I didn’t like, “Fire Storm Hotel.” First, the main guitar riff sounds a heck of a lot like Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” and the chorus sounds like it was written from the 80s arena rock template. The song sounds like it would play in a strip club scene of a horror movie. It doesn’t really grab me as Motorhead until Lemmy starts singing and doesn’t have that typical Motorhead swagger that is present on the other tracks on the album. Ultimately, it sounds like a song Lemmy wrote for another band.
Lemmy recently said that Motorhead’s version of “Sympathy for the Devil” is better than the Stones’ original. I can’t say I agree, but there is an undeniable quality to Lemmy’s voice as he sings this song. The lyrics are perfectly suited to be sung Lemmy, especially at this point in his career. The Stones’ version is definitive. But, I’ll be damned if Motorhead’s cover isn’t superb. The percussions are less extensive, but not absent; and the addition of some piano chords nicely round out Motorhead’s vision for the song.
I recommend this album to anyone familiar with Motorhead, but more importantly, it’s also a great place for newcomers to start their own Motorhead journey. The album retains the tight and loud sound that Motorhead has patented over their careers. There’s nothing ground-breaking here; but Motorhead breaks ear-drums, not music critic expectations. Bad Magic is 11 barn-burners, a power-ballad, and the fantastic cover of “Sympathy.” Simply put: What’s not to like?
– J. Kevin Lynch