For close to 3 weeks, I listened to nothing but Motörhead. And I really mean nothing but Motörhead. I didn’t even intend to write about it, I just wanted to try and listen to every single studio album at first. It became much more than that. I started giving the albums ratings (out of 10 stars). Little by little, I started writing comments on a notepad and realized that I could turn this into a full-on discography review. It was an absorbing experience.I did quite a bit of research and spent hours watching live shows to try to listen to certain albums within the context of their eras. I calculated that I spent nearly 50 hours in total listening to Motörhead albums and watching live shows. I’d often go back and re-listen to albums, and I’d often think to myself ‘Who are you to review Lemmy?!’.
Well, here we are.
Motörhead has been a band that has been with me my whole life, one of my favorites and I wanted to get some perspective on how a band can, year after year, continue to make new albums. Are they all good? How does the sound change (if indeed it does at all)? And how can a band challenge itself for so long? I’d listened to half of the band’s studio albums before, but I wanted to listen to everything and find out. I also wanted to do so in no particular order – I did not want to go chronologically.
I rated the albums out of 10 stars within the context of its own discography: 10 out of 10 being an absolute Motörhead classic/essential listening. Weaker albums are also dealt with in this context: to the band’s credit, a bad Motörhead album is still better than most albums out there. That’s how consistent this discography proved to be. This is a band that deserves more than to be summed up with typical “All Motörhead albums sound alike” reviews. There are differences through the years, and I hope this article helps to do them justice.
Since the band was started by Lemmy Kilmister, who is the only remaining original member, the group’s longevity should be attributed not just to Lemmy’s obvious talents and perseverance, but (and I only realized this midway through this whole experience) his incredible ability to keep Motörhead a band effort, and not just his own project. Songwriting is usually credited to the entire group, and Lemmy’s dominating bass sound/playing changes drastically when we listen to albums in which, for example, Motörhead has 2 guitarists in the band instead of 1. Lemmy is very good at being in a band, which is not an easy task, especially when the band is able to, time and time again, retain its fast and aggressive fusion of punk, blues, hard rock and metal.
I believe that his ability to remove ego here and consistently make decisions with regards to what is best for the group, musically, shows an incredible amount of integrity.
To the best of my own ability, I’ve checked facts and historical information to be accurate. However, given that this was a one-man job: listening, researching, writing, editing, I may have overlooked certain things. I also wanted the reviews to be kept straight-forward and to the point. Please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom. All comments are subject to my approval, because the internet. I’d love to get your comments, feedback, your own reviews, experiences or memories with the band, if you have ’em! Please note: although I’ve included a bit of history and context, this is not meant to be a history or biography of the band. For this, you should definitely read Lemmy’s autobiography, White Line Fever.
Although I am not reviewing live albums/shows/videos, the Motörhead live experience is as important as the studio work. Any serious fan will want and should listen to No Sleep Till Hammersmith. There is a wealth of live material out there that you should get your hands on. I’ve seen them live 3 times, and looking forward to the next show here in Montreal on September 18!
Here begins what turned out to be a nearly 4000 word review of the band’s discography.
1977– Motörhead 5/10
Note: The songs for the first album also appear on the album “On Parole” – recorded in 1976 but only released in 1979 after the success of “Overkill”. The eponymous album and On Parole have similar track listings, but offer different recordings of the songs. For the purpose of this discography I’ve chosen to review it in its eponymous format.
This first LP shows the band is struggling to find its voice and is stylistically all over the place: there’s punk (Vibrator), there’s the classic Motörhead sound (the title song, originally performed with Hawkwind), and a great deal of distorted pub/blues rock. It gets awkward at times (Train Kept A Rollin’), hearing Lemmy seemingly use these songs as practice to find his proper vocal style. As a historical document, it’s an interesting piece of music that basically gives us a rough blueprint of the band. This is far from the band’s best work and is best used as the audio equivalent to an old photo album.
1979 – Overkill 10/10
I’d listened to Overkill countless times, but listening to the first album in the context of the discography made me appreciate it even more. It’s incredible how the band just came fully formed here and is completely confident. The contrast in quality and sound is huge (compared to the first record). Side by side, you’d think this is a different band altogether.
This album is pure perfection, and remains one of the most influential rock records ever. As far as heavy music goes, it’s still hard to top this one. Lemmy deserves more credit as a singer: the vocals to Stay Clean are just genius. I mean, hearing him ending lines as if he’s catching his breath is a lesson in true vocal performance that adds urgency in a truly original manner. It’s a little detail that I find astounding every time I listen to it.
Once the title track was first played and Phil Taylor’s double-kick drumbeat started, it opened the floodgates to a new era in heavy rock drumming!
1979 – Bomber 8/10
While not the landmark that Overkill or Ace of Spades were, this is a strong album and an essential one in the band’s catalog. I’ve always loved this album, with songs like Dead Men Tell No Tales, Stone Dead Forever and Lawman being my favourites. The 2nd half of the album has a few weaker moments, but the title track closing the album is a true Motörhead classic. It’s even more impressive to think that in the space of 2 years the band came out with so much great material. I saved this one to end my discography listening experience on an assured high note, which it did not fail to do.
1980 – Ace Of Spades 10/10
Matches Overkill quality-wise. Incredible guitar playing by Eddie Clarke here. With faster, heavier songs, this one took everything one step further and in my case has often replaced the use of caffeine in the morning.
An essential life experience.
1982 – Iron Fist 8/10
Make no mistake: this is a classic Motörhead album, and the last with the original lineup. Unfortunately, it has a few songs in the middle which aren’t all that outstanding. This is still one of band’s finest albums, but I can’t say it is quite on par with Ace Of Spades, Bomber & Overkill. The title track, I’m The Doctor, (Don’t Need) Religion – even Remember Me, I’m Gone which was a B-Side, are songs which are part of the very best material the band has ever produced. Unfortunately, tracks like Sex & Outrage, and America are not as consistent or notable. Still, what an incredible run of great albums that just shows no signs of stopping.
1984 – Another Perfect Day 10/10
This isn’t an album that was well-received, nor was it very successful. This period in question is documented as being the low point in the band’s career, but you wouldn’t know it listening to this record. Many may disagree with my assessment here, but I think this album is an essential record, and in my Top 5 Motörhead albums. This is the first and only album featuring Brian Robertson on guitar, following Eddie Clarke’s leave after Iron Fist. Anything you read about this album will not fail to mention that Robertson was incredibly slow at recording his guitar, needed everything note perfect and was fired shortly because he just really didn’t fit in (long story very short). Lemmy still hasn’t talked to him to this day, apparently. But here’s the thing: the guitar work on this album is just amazing, and the overall feel of this album is totally unique in the Motörhead discography because of it. Robertson adds effects to his guitar that may arguably date the album, but I don’t find this is to the detriment of its quality (what helps is the drums and bass retain the same sounds we’ve come to expect, so the guitar work I find just adds personality). The guitar effects are integral to the songs themselves, and I would have a hard time imagining the band playing these songs live without them. The band sounds like they’re on fire here throughout, with some nice extended jams on songs like One Track Mind (which has a really nice Stranglehold-esque vibe to it) and the title track. If you remove the drama that surrounds the making of this album, it’s just a perfect Motörhead record. Amazing.
1986 – Orgasmatron 4/10
Mostly good songs here, but sonically this is a really weird album. There are really awkward gang vocals (and a lot of them!), weird panning on the drums (why, on some songs, the bass drum is panned totally to the left, is one of life’s great mysteries) and the sound of the record actually takes away from the quality of the material. It does not sound like a Motörhead record, and that hurts the album more than anything. Guitarists Wurzel (who would stay until the Overnight Sensation album) and Phil Campbell (still in the band to this day) made their debut here, although I do find they started adding personality to the band’s sound only on the next album. It appears Motörhead was trying a different approach to songwriting: Deaf Forever and the title track, for instance, are much slower-than-usual tempos, adding a sense of menace to the sound. It would work, but the production on this album and the mixing keeps distracting you from it. It’s just not an enjoyable listening experience, and this is what I end up taking with me more than anything else. The title track is a true classic though (often covered by Sepultura, too). But asides from that one song, this is the first album in the discography I’ve listened to so far that really sounds dated and uninvolving. It’s too bad, because it really feels like the band was trying to do something quite good with the songs themselves. You know, I’m thinking out loud here, but maybe a remix of this album would work. I’d be curious to hear it mixed differently. Or in mono? Rant is over.
1987 – Rock N Roll 5/10
This is a back to basics return. I’d read reviews that stated this was an abysmal record, but it really isn’t! The band sounds like Motörhead again, and appears having a lot of fun. The songs here are indeed overall disappointing, but the musicianship is strong, and original drummer Phil Taylor is back. It has a few cool moments though: The Wolf starts with a nice drum intro that takes us back to Overkill, while Traitor and Blackheart have Lemmy in a proper pissed-off mood, and the band plays fast and aggressive throughout. Not a great album, but definitely not as bad as I’d heard it was. I’m actually disappointed that the B-Side to Eat The Rich, Just ‘Cos You Got The Power didn’t make the album, because it’s a very good song that would have ended the album with real strength.
1991 – 1916 – 8.5/10
1916 is a rebirth for the band, and is also one of its more experimental ones. Songs like Nightmare, Love Me Forever, and the title track show new depth to Lemmy’s songwriting, and No Voices in the Sky along with One To Sing The Blues are some of the all-time best fist-pumping Motörhead songs. The quality of this album is undeniable and it’s easy to understand why, after its release Lemmy was commissioned to write songs for Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears album. One of the most interesting/creative albums of Motörhead’s career, and the band sounds eager to prove itself once again, shoving the competition aside. I think this one might be overlooked, but taking risks here stylistically definitely paid off.
1992 – March ör Die 3/10
This was the first Motörhead album I’d ever listened to. I was 10 or 11 and bought the cassette, and I have to say I didn’t like the album. To this day, I have a problem with it, but nearly 20 years later I can actually understand why! By this point, Ozzy’s No More Tears album had come out, sold millions, and some of the strongest songs on No More Tears were penned by Lemmy (the whole album is great though). So I can understand why Lemmy would have chosen to record his own take of the song Hellraiser, but I personally will always prefer Ozzy’s take, maybe that’s because I knew Ozzy’s version first. There’s also a cover of Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever here which is completely useless (I don’t know, I mean this was Motörhead’s first and only major-label album, was this to help break the band further in America? They played it live quite a bit in the early nineties, so maybe they just liked the song, but the cover here doesn’t work for me). The album opener, Stand, is a catchy song with a singalong chorus but in the context of their discography, it’s actually a pretty weak Motörhead track I find. The one real moment of brilliance here is Too Good To Be True, which I think is one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever written. Just like the rest of the album, perhaps Motörhead shows a bit more of a commercial side here (Lemmy arguably sings a bit cleaner on this album…still sounds like Lemmy though), but this song is pure gold. I don’t care, commercial or not, I remember loving that song as a kid and it still reaches me today. There’s a real vulnerability in the lyrics, and while the song completely rocks, it also breaks your heart. Too Good To Be True: listen to the song. March ör Die also has a semi-acoustic single called I Ain’t No Nice Guy (feat. Ozzy and Slash), which is good, but works better when I see Lemmy perform it only with Phil Campbell, fully acoustic (found on the 25 & Alive Boneshaker dvd’s bonus features). March ör Die is, I think, the weakest album in the band’s discography. Did I mention that you should still listen to Too Good To Be True though?
1993 – Bastards 9.5/10
One of the essential Motörhead releases. With the exception of the ballad ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me’, a well-written and thoughtful tune in its own right, this is a classic ass-kicking album, and stands alongside any of their best. I think that the inclusion of drummer Mikkey Dee with this record (still the drummer to this day) helped the band find a more aggressive sound and helped to rightfully put Motörhead back on the map as one of the most important rock ‘n roll bands of all time. I nearly gave it a 10, but I do find that Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me interrupts the flow of the album a bit, whereas the other ballad here, Lost In The Ozone, continues with the fine songwriting experiments brilliantly displayed on 1916, and is a standout track. This is one of my favorite Motörhead albums, and one of the ones I most frequently revisit. Essential!!!
1995 – Sacrifice 8/10
This is one that I’ve always linked with the Bastards album: they’re both super aggressive, quality records that (for me) fit hand-in-hand together. Anyone who grew up watching Troma movies in the 90s should already be familiar with the insanely great title track, but the album as a whole is worth your time (especially considering the brief running time). It isn’t as consistent as Bastards, with a few weak moments here and there, but songs like Over Your Shoulder, All Gone To Hell and Out Of The Sun are 5 star songs. Sacrifice is one of the heaviest Motörhead albums of all time. Mikkey Dee’s drumming here deserves lots of love, pushing the band to try out different, more syncopated rhythms .
1996 – Overnight Sensation 6.5/10
This one found the band back as a 3-piece and was an eye-opener for me: It made me look at the last few albums differently due to a small stylistic shift. Gone is the songwriting experimentation and guitars in the front, back with what we now consider the classic Motörhead sound, and the album is much more bass-heavy and rock ‘n roll sounding as a result. It isn’t as aggressive as the previous 2 records, and it isn’t as consistent, but I still thought it was good. Listen To Your Heart has Lemmy essentially playing the rhythm guitar with his bass, which is a really cool idea. Love Can’t Buy You Money has a strong groove and a bass solo that takes us back to Stay Clean. I Don’t Believe A Word (with a surprising return to clean vocals from Lemmy!), Overnight Sensation and Civil War are the standout tracks here. The rest is good if not phenomenal, but this is the band regrouping and focusing on creating music as a 3-piece again after years of having 2 guitars. I’m sure I’d include 3-4 tracks of this album if I made a custom Best Of playlist. But I wouldn’t do that, I’m 16 albums into this discography and realizing that almost every one of them has enough strong points to make it worth a spin. That’s an incredible achievement. The front cover was immediate proof that Joe Petagno was integral to the Motörhead album experience (when I was a kid and saw this album in record stores I remember thinking it was a compilation because Motörhead albums always looked pretty badass!). Joe Petagno. Check him out. Buy a signed print. He’s part of the legacy too (though since the Kiss Of Death album, he has unfortunately resigned from producing work for Motörhead).
1998 – Snake Bite Love 5/10
A return to a heavier sound here does not translate to immediately great songs. I was let down by the album, which I found altogether rather forgettable. Hey, it sounds like Motörhead doing what they do best, so I won’t say it’s a bad album: Lemmy could read the phonebook and I’d still be listening. The track Assassin, a return to the syncopated rhythms of Sacrifice, is a good song but does not match the quality of its predecessor. My favorite songs here were the (slightly) more quiet track Dead And Gone, the excellent Joy Of Labour, and the album closer Better Off Dead. To give you an idea, 2 days after listening to the album I could barely remember any of it, which is a rare occurrence in the Motörhead catalog. Unfortunately, I also did not feel like listening to it again. I was 17 albums into the discography, and went back to hear Inferno again instead!
2000 – We Are Motörhead 8/10
Short and so very sweet, this one has a familiar feel building on the fast and furious style of Bastards and Sacrifice. The only misstep here is the cover of Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen. It’s good, but it doesn’t match the quality of the new songs. As this album only has 10 songs and a brief 35 minutes-ish running time, I’d given this one a 9 had it not been for God Save The Queen, because the rest is great. The album ends with what appears to be the band’s 21st century mission statement: the wonderful title track We Are Motörhead, and it feels as if it has found a new sense of purpose for the new millennium (check out the front cover if you need a mission statement). Very fast, very heavy – one of the band’s better latter-day albums, and the song One More Fucking Time is a classy & cool slow burner, with intensely personal lyrics and an awesome guitar solo* served as an outro. This album was new to me, and I ended up actually listening to it a few times in the context of this discography because I liked it so much.
*Let’s take a moment here. I haven’t talked about the greatness of Phil Campbell much. Phil Campbell should be recognized for his incredible guitar playing. His riffs, his solos, his energy, his live presence, the dude is such a talent. I’ve spoken about Mikkey Dee in this discography review, and I also need to mention how incredibly important Phil Campbell’s sound is for this band. Listening to every album, you realize that the band is much more technical (musically) than it gets credit for. In its current lineup, Motörhead is a team of 3 incredible musicians who are also incredible songwriters. Motörhead is Lemmy’s baby, but the band is credited as writing most songs together. And I will dare to say that I think this lineup is the best the band has ever had.
2002 – Hammered 4/10
I thought this one sounded very weak. There are a few good songs here, such as the brutally heavy Red Raw, and the very catchy Mine All Mine (my two favorite songs from Hammered). As a whole, this record didn’t keep my interest, and I actually found some of the songs to go on for too long – No Remorse (not a cover of the Metallica song) is a very good song at its core, but does not need to be 5 minutes long. The album ends with a curious spoken-word outro called Serial Killer that ends the album on a downer (though I’ll give bonus points for the album title, and I love how classy the album cover looks).
2004 – Inferno 8/10
This was the 11th album I listened to in this discography, and I was so impressed by this one. 30 years later the band can write still an album that sounds insanely loud and inspired! So many standout tracks here : Terminal Show (featuring a guitar solo by Steve Vai), In the Black, Suicide, Down On Me, Killers, and the insanely cool In The Name Of Tragedy… Great songs with awesome hooks! A really consistent album that has a few forgettable moments and one nice surprise: Whorehouse Blues, a nice acoustic jam letting Lemmy sing the blues – and the band even brings out the harmonica (this anomaly is cheekily addressed in the lyrics: “You know the only thing that’s missing, Is a little mouth harp blues, And you know life’s full of suprises, You know we do that too”. A very good album, and though it isn’t likely to be addressed as a milestone in the band’s career, is way up there with some of the best material it has recorded.
2006 – Kiss Of Death 8.5/10
This band and lineup is relentless! This is a really, really heavy album with so much good stuff. Where to begin? Well, count on Motörhead to have a ballad called God Was Never On Your Side. Kiss Of Death has some of the best, most ferocious material I’ve listened to. This was the last album I put on that was new to me, that I’d never listened to before. And man, I’m gonna keep going back to this one. Sucker, the album opener sets the tone nicely, with Lemmy sounding as pissed off as ever. He sounds even more aggressive at age 60 here! There isn’t a bad song here. Near the end of the album you start to feel like maybe the album could have made even more of an impact if it had been 1-2 songs shorter, but what a minimal complaint that is! This is one of the definitive latter-day albums (though what is latter-day Motörhead? It sounds here like Lemmy truly will never stop – and I just listened to the band’s new single, Thunder and Lightning for the upcoming Bad Magic album – Lemmy is now 69 years old and this thought still appears to be true).
2008 – Motörizer 6/10
I wasn’t sold on the first half of the album, but by the end of Motörizer’s last song, The Thousand Names Of God, I realized that Motörizer’s biggest flaw is its track order. Every Motörhead album has its classics, but I’d the issue here is that they just happen to be in the latter half of the album. Despite some routine tracks like One Short Life and the opening track Runaround Man, this one’s well-worth your time. The last 3 songs (Heroes, Time is Right and The Thousand Names Of God) are just epic, English Rose has a very memorable chorus and When The Eagle Screams has a great groove and single-handedly saves the first half of the record from being altogether forgettable.
2010 – The World Is Yöurs 7/10
This one starts out with 3 absolutely killer songs: Born To Lose, I know How To Die, Get Back in Line: awesome. The rest of the album is uneven. Rock ‘n Roll Music is an honest testament to Lemmy’s love of rock ‘n roll, but I didn’t care much for the song despite its good intentions. The middle section here drags a bit, but Brotherhood of Man picks it up quite nicely, with its Orgasmatron-like (the song, not the album) style. Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye made me realize that in Motörhead’s world, a breakup song is a feel-good song because it means Lemmy reclaims his freedom! (it also made me go back to Too Good To Be True from the March ör Die album, which I find is lyrically so unlike the band’s songs that I wish I could get further insight. I love that song.) This one is worth listening to for its first 3 songs alone, yet at its worst The World Is Yöurs is still extremely entertaining and rockin’. No small feat 20 albums into your career.
2013 – Aftershock 8/10
Ah, the beauty of editing. If this album ended at song number 10, Crying Shame, I’d give it a 9 without a doubt. The first 10 songs are just *awesome*. And with Lost Woman Blues and Dust And Glass, Lemmy’s letting his Blues flag wave, showing that after 35+ years, Motörhead can still surprise you. These are slower, gentler songs that somehow retain the feel and attitude we’ve come to expect from the band. It’s a brilliant album that ends with 4 songs that should have been bonus tracks or B-Sides, and not because they’re not good, but because the rest is so g-r-e-a-t. Like I said, I’d have given this a 9 or maybe even a 9.5 if the review was solely based on the first 10 tracks. It’s inspiring to know that a band can make such quality work 21 (studio) albums into its career, a real testament to its songwriting strength.
If you’ve taken the time to read all of this: Thank you. Doing this for 3 weeks straight was a real challenge!!
Special thanks to Alistair McIntosh.