Starry eyes 

"Once we had taken clothes from a homeless girl, there were no taboos." -- Nikki Sixx, "The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band"

For all the rank debauchery detailed in Mötley Crüe's now legendary autobiography -- and truly, it's all too nasty to be called "decadence" -- the one thing "The Dirt" really doesn't dish up is a sense of the noise these four waste-cases managed to make. Sure, Vince Neil glibly says that he thought the writing and recording process for "Theatre of Pain" was a creative disaster and Nikki Sixx admits that "like 'Theatre of Pain,' 'Girls, Girls, Girls' could have been a phenomenal record." But, for the most part, "The Dirt" is a disgustingly wrecked tale of black tar, suitcases of blow, alcohol bloat and telephone receivers in unlikely crevices, not a deep look into the music that made it all possible.

So with the release of "Music to Crash Your Car To, Volume 1," it's now possible to begin assessing the racket that paid for that Persian heroin Nikki Sixx OD'd on. The first of three four-CD box sets, "Volume 1" compiles the entirety of Mötley Crüe's first four albums -- "Too Fast for Love," "Shout at the Devil," "Theatre of Pain" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" -- along with the bonus tracks that padded the remastered reissues the band rolled out back in 1999. The next two volumes, due in 2004, will include not only the next four studio albums, but also tons of live material and other hard-to-find stuff. Knowing that some Crüe fans might wince at the thought of buying this material once again, the band made sure the box set was a worthwhile investment by adding unreleased material.

"It's pretty thorough in that it's got everything we've ever done: different configurations of songs, demos, outtakes. If you get the whole thing `meaning all three volumes`, you've got the whole Mötley Crüe collection," says Nikki Sixx of the box. As founder, bassist, ex-lead junkie and current keeper of the Mötley Crüe flame, Sixx could easily be accused of ripping a page from Gene Simmons' book by (yet again) repackaging his band's material. However, not only does he not share Simmons' aversion to massive drug-taking, Sixx doesn't share the KISS bassist's assumption that his fans are endlessly willing to step up and be financially screwed by a band they love.

"It's not just to resell the same material to the fans, it's a real collectible," he says. "And it's priced so fans can get it easily. One of my things about box sets is that they're so expensive, so we wanted to make this one easy for people to buy. If you like the early stuff, just buy the first box. If you want everything, buy 'em all."

If you like the early stuff, "Volume 1" is indeed a treasure. In addition to the platinum-certified material that made Mötley Crüe a household name in the '80s -- those classic, drug-crazed first four albums -- this first box set contains one of two holy grails for Crüe fans: the original, Leathür Records version of "Too Fast for Love." (The other, the band's breakthrough performance at the 1983 US Festival, is yet to be released, unfortunately. According to Sixx: "We've been trying to get that done for quite a few years. I think that would be great if we could release that.") Self-released when no label would give them the time of day, the phenomenal independent success of the album is, ultimately, what led Elektra to pick up the band. The label insisted on Roy Thomas Baker remixing the tracks before it was rereleased, and though the sound of the Elektra version is admittedly more meaty, the raw attack of the Leathür version is a potent snapshot of a hostile and hungry young band. In true Mötley Crüe fashion, somewhere over the years, the original masters (as well as all personal copies the band members had) have been lost, forcing the band to rely on their webmaster's vinyl copy when it came to making the box set.

"They've disappeared," Sixx curtly says of the tapes. "We couldn't find 'em."

How does one lose an album? Although he doesn't accuse them of any malfeasance, Sixx is quick to point out that his band's former label, which had access to the master tapes throughout the '80s, has been less than cooperative when it comes to Mötley Crüe's legacy.

"They're not exactly forthcoming when it comes to helping us do stuff," he says. "I think it's embarrassing to them that we took our masters from them and went out, on our own, and quadrupled our billing on those same records."

Despite the slightly imperfect sound quality of the Leathür versions -- admittedly, the occasional sound of vinyl popping adds just the right amount of nostalgia -- those 10 tracks are the perfect starting point for "Music to Crash Your Car To." Although the "Toast of the Town" single (also included here) had been released first, the sound of "Too Fast for Love" was the first of a series of chameleonlike identity shifts the band would chronicle throughout their works. For most hard rock and metal fans from the '80s, "Too Fast" and its follow-up, "Shout at the Devil" are iconic albums, with riffs and accessible melodies tarted up with just enough vodka-fueled menace and flaming pentagrams to qualify as badass guilty pleasures. But when the band released "Theatre of Pain" on the heels of "Shout," emerging in pink spandex and lace in the video for "Smokin' in the Boys Room" and then having the gall to release a lighter ballad as a single, the rock masses called foul while other masses beat down record-store doors to buy the album.

As I tell Sixx, my 14-year-old self crossed the band off my cool list in 1985, having determined they had turned into complete sellout pussies.

"What do you do after 'Shout at the Devil?'" he laughs. "Are you gonna start chopping up people on stage? We were like, 'Predictable.' So we go in the opposite direction with the lipstick and freak people out. The idea was to shake it up. We never wanted to be one of those bands where the first album looked, sounded and smelled like the fourth album. It was very important to embrace something, envelop it and then abandon it. Our interpretation of art was that we don't want you to know what you're gonna get every time. Although everyone would complain about us changing, soon after we did something, every other band was changing too. And the people that were following didn't have a clue as to what we were representing."

Sixx's eloquent revisionism of history doesn't quite pass the bullshit test, but he does have a point. (Although I wish he would have just said, "I was so fucked up I didn't know what I was doing. Sorry for the shitty records.") The different approaches become a little more clear as you listen to the first four (or five, depending on how you count) albums from the band; at the same time, a good chunk of previously dismissed material from "Theatre" and "Girls" holds up remarkably well with the more memorable songs from the classic albums. I have to ask him if he got nostalgic while putting the material together and looking back on his younger days.

"We were just kids," he says. "And when you're always in forward motion, you tend not to look back. So when you get an opportunity like this to sit down and listen to old tracks, you're able to reflect on what those albums were about and what was going on at the time. It's almost like you get to be a fan of your own band."

Enough of a fan to try and put aside the fistfights, ego trips and bad blood and get the four original members out on the road? With the upcoming film version of "The Dirt" (it's slated for release in 2005 via MTV Films/Paramount) and the completion of the box set series in 2004, Sixx says it's time for Mötley Crüe to tour again and plans are in the works for a reunion/ farewell jaunt in 2005.

"I'd love to do it one more time. I think we should go out the way we started," he says, adding with a touch of melancholy, "We should do it one more time and then we should call it a day."


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