Like death and taxes, Mötörhead is an institution that can easily be taken for granted. For the past 40 years, it’s been an article of faith that A) frontman Lemmy Kilmister is a god in human form, and B) his band will release an album of consistent (if predictable) amphetamine-fueled rock ‘n roll every two years or so. Sadly, recent events have revealed Lemmy to be a mere mortal, and a somewhat fragile one at that. The band pushes onward as usual, and while no one will say it, there’s the lingering possibility that the their new album, Bad Magic, could possibly be their last.
Mötörhead is as self-referencing as ever on Bad Magic. “Thunder & Lightning” is this album’s obligatory “Ace of Spades”/”Iron Fist” rewrite. Mikkey Dee’s fancy drum work on “Shoot Out All Of Your Lights” is a clear callback to 1995’s “Sacrifice,” and first single “Electricity” shares its main riff with 2004’s “Smiling Like A Killer.” In several instances, lyrics seem to be assembled out of older Mötörhead song titles, which is actually a pretty cool trick. Regardless, the old line about how these guys keep writing the same album appears to be somewhat true in this case.
While nothing here is exactly greatest-hits-worthy, there’s certainly some winners. “Fire Storm Hotel” sports a greasy riff that recalls the 1916/Bastards era, as well as some fairly poetic lyrics. “Evil Eye” features some rattling and shaking percussion as counterpoint to Lemmy’s subterranean growl. There’s also the bluesy and surprisingly upbeat “When the Sky Comes Looking for You,” as well as the cro-magnon heaviness of the awesomely-titled “Tell Me Who To Kill” (I’ll send you a list, Lemmy).
Contrary to popular belief, Mötörhead is capable of the occasional surprise, but this album contains few of them. You can find Queen guitarist Brian May slumming it on “The Devil,” for instance. “Till The End” is a gritty acoustic ballad, and one of the few tracks where Lemmy’s newfound mortality seems to have influenced the lyrical content. Why this song isn’t the closing track is beyond me, but that honor went to an unremarkable cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “Sympathy For The Devil.” On the off chance that this becomes the final track of Mötörhead‘s recorded output, I imagine I’d be among many fans that would be extremely disappointed.
Bad Magic continues the subtle shift in the Mötörhead‘s character over the last 10-15 years. Guitarist Phil Campbell has become something of an off-brand Zakk Wylde, relying heavily on a standard-issue “heavy metal” tone in the absence of fresh riffs and ideas. Meanwhile, Mr. Kilmister’s lyrics have become almost nonsensical, yet they convey enormous amounts of nihilism and dread, as though he’s witnessed so much misfortune that he can’t even explain it properly. In other words, these guys are not exactly playing rock ‘n roll anymore. This is a change that many listeners won’t notice, and some may even prefer it, but it’s something that’s always struck me as “off” about the band’s recent output.
Mötörhead have made a lot of albums (22, to be exact), and Bad Magic is, for better or worse, just one more of them. It’s not a carefully prepared gourmet meal; it’s a fucking can of military rations. The prevailing opinion amongst the diehards is that the band has been on autopilot since 2004’s Inferno, and this record will not change anybody’s mind about that. There’s nothing on Bad Magic that straight-up sucks, but nothing is mind-blowingly great either. Its redeeming quality is that it sounds like Mötörhead, which is all you could reasonably expect at this point. Now get off the internet and go see these guys on tour while you still can.