REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/17/2017
Motörhead's career could be seen as being similar to a rollercoaster ride. For all of the highs they experienced in terms of popularity (as well as musical excellence), there were just as many dips. By 1991, Lemmy Kilmister and crew were coming out of a huge dip: the disappointment of Rock 'n' Roll and the subsequent live album No Sleep At All, followed by a drawn-out legal fight with their label GWR which kept them out of the recording studio for a few years.
But now, things were finally (again) looking up. Kilmister had moved from his native England to Los Angeles, and for the first time, Motörhead were signed to a major label (albeit a small division of one). This was their chance to finally make the most of what they were given – and, with 1916, they succeeded (for the most part).
Their most ambitious and genre-bending album to date, the band – Kilmister, guitarists Wurzel and Phil Campbell and drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor – dared to write and record a ballad, and even included two songs with minimal instrumentation that you would expect to hear from a heavy metal band. (This, of course, despite the fact that Kilmister eschewed the classification of Motörhead as heavy metal; he simply said they played rock and roll.
Take, for example, the title track – a musical tale of the Battle Of The Somme during World War I, told from the perspective of a teenaged soldier, one of thousands of Englishmen slaughtered in that battle. That Motörhead should have taken on such a heady subject should be no surprise, as Kilmister was indeed extremely well-read (especially on the subject of war); that they should take on the subject with sensitivity and – dare I say it? – beauty might surprise some. Yeah, you won't be slamming your head into the wall with this one – but it just might make you sit down and think, and that's not a bad thing, either.
Similarly, tracks like “Love Me Forever” and “Nightmare (The Dreamtime)” are not your typical Motörhead fare – the former being the ballad mentioned a few paragraphs ago, the latter a dark, foreboding number with only bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals (including some backwards masking from Mr. Kilmister) to create an atmosphere worthy of the song's title. While I can't say that “Love Me Forever” is my favorite song on the disc, it does have its moments, and is worthy of your time.
If you think that 1916 is filled with slow, introspective songs, though, you have another thought coming. Opening with the aural two-step on one's spine, “The One To Sing The Blues,” Kilmister and crew quickly show that they had lost no power or fury just because they were now on a major label. Add into this the one-two solar plexus punch of “I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care)” and “No Voices In The Sky,” and you have an album that quickly lets you know whose turf you're on, and that they will take no prisoners.
This isn't to say there aren't any mis-steps. Both “Going To Brazil” and “Angel City” feel like they were cut from the same bolt of cloth, and it wasn't necessarily the premium kind. Are they bad songs? No. But compared to some of their album-mates, they do pale a bit in comparison.
Still, 1916 represented a true return to form for Motörhead – something the subsequent live home video Everything Louder Than Everything Else captured perfectly, save for the appearance of labelmates Cycle Sluts From Hell in a wasted cameo. If anyone thought the '90s were going to be a safe decade, 1916 put them on notice that Lemmy and crew were still around, and weren't going to play by anyone's rules other than their own.