One big part of being a music fan is enduring line-up changes. Bands break up or members quit or get fired. Other times it is tragedy that forces a band member change. Sometimes the change is not even very noteworthy – person x is in place of person y behind the drums of that thrash band that’s good but no one is up in arms about. But other times the line-up change is world-shaking and causes intense amounts of speculation and drama.
Numerous line-up changes have occurred over the years in bands I like and listen to. I’m going to begin a new series where I look at changes that have had a great impact on the band in question and my fandom of said band. There are enough of these that I can go on about them for quite awhile.
For my first look at a band’s member changes I’m going to look at Motley Crüe. The group have only had a few member changes but one especially was a nuclear bomb that changed the course of the group immeasurably.
Motley Crüe had no lineup changes for 11 years, only having jettisoned a second guitar player before the band was named. The same line-up of singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee would go on to terrorize radio, hotel rooms and women for over a decade unscathed.
While 1991 saw a new form of rock overtake hair metal as the new format of choice, Motley Crüe were one of a few 80’s bands that seemed poised to make it through the mess with a career still intact. The group released a greatest hits compilation in October 1991 called Decade Of Decadence that offered highlights from the group’s career. It also feature a scorching, heavy as hell new track Primal Scream. That song gave the appearance that the band could regroup and offer a more gritty, heaver version of their sound that might still resonate in the new music climate. Decade sold well and Primal Scream was a much-talked about song in the Crüe legacy.
But it wasn’t to be. In February 1992, the band announced that Vince Neil was departing. It’s still unclear if he quit or was fired – the consensus seems to be that both happened. Either way, the Crüe were now in uncharted waters.
Neil went on to record two decently received yet commercially unsuccessful solo albums, while his former band hired The Scream mainman John Corabi to helm a new record. 1994’s Motley Crüe came out the gate decently enough but then floundered. The band would see the financial writing on the wall and reunite with Vince in 1997 for the equally unsuccessful and, well, bad Generation Swine.
So what was it like at the time? The music landscape was shifting, of course, but it was still a bit of a shock that Motley Crüe were parting like this. Like I said, they seemed like they might be able to crank out something viable to keep up with the times. Primal Scream had a fair bit of grit to it and the band were certainly capable of delivering above the standard hair metal line. As much ink has been spilled about the changing face of rock in the early 90’s, recall that one of the best-selling groups of those years were Aerosmith. Even with the arrival of grunge and alt-rock, there was room for Motley Crüe.
The singer change in 1992 was one that just did not bear fruit. Yes, John Corabi is an excellent musician. The band updated their sound for the times and let Corabi inform their recording, and honestly that was probably too much. They made a record that sounds great with John but it really just isn’t Motley Crüe. It didn’t have the sneer and sleaze that defined the band up to that point – the early indications in 1991 were that the classic outfit could update their own sound. The self-titled record proved too much for fans to bear, even if the album is good or even excellent in its own right.
The band was knocked off course through the 90’s and wouldn’t get right again for quite some time. Their other major line-up change would come in 1999, just after the failure of Generation Swine. Drummer Tommy Lee, by this time far more of a tabloid star than a rock drummer, would leave the band due to frustrations with Vince Neil. And if you heard the dredge that Lee released as a solo artist, he must have been very angry to leave his signature band behind and release that crap.
Lee was replaced in Crüe by former Ozzy Osbourne skinsman Randy Castillo, who helped the group record 2000’s New Tattoo. Castillo was beset by health problems before the tour began and was replaced by Hole drummer Samantha Maloney. Castillo would unfortunately find himself in a losing battle with cancer, passing away in 2002.
New Tattoo was a better offering than their prior effort but did not move the needle for the band. In 2004 the group decided to put their differences aside and reunite. This time the classic line-up would stick for eight years, through a new album and several tours. The tours attracted a lot of attention and the band would ride a wave through to their “retirement” at the close of 2015. Of course they would famously reunite for a 2020 2021 2022 stadium tour several years later.
In most line-up changes I can accept whatever caused the rift or loss and I can set my feelings aside and allow a band to move on. But in the case of Motley Crüe it just didn’t work out with Corabi. The band seem fine ignoring the time period – Nikki Sixx had long been complimentary of the Corabi period but recently turned on his former collaborator in interviews. The songs from that era are left alone in live sets and the album doesn’t even get the reissue treatment.
Motley Crüe the album probably ought to see a revisit. I have no problem citing its worth, though I can see why so many fans turned on the band. But enough others hail it as one of the band’s best and would cough up the necessary cash for the much-needed repress. Hell, the other two albums from the band’s “dark” period could also see new issues – neither was ever officially pressed on vinyl.
But Motley Crüe seem to be happy to retrofit their career to 1981-1991, and 2004-2022. It’s probably a wise choice given the poor reception to the line-up change despite the merits of the replacement singer. It’s the case of one band where line-up changes didn’t work out. The Tommy Lee departure in 1999 might not have been terribly impactful – by then the damage had already been done. And they’re the only line-up changes the band has had in its history. Sometimes a group has to stick with what works, and that is certainly the case with Motley Crüe.