By 1989, Motley Crüe had slowly built their fanbase to the point where Dr. Feelgood could open at number one on the Billboard chart and, in a way, the album marks the last high point of hair metal, two years after Appetite for Destruction, two years before Nevermind and Vince Neil leaving with the band’s last shot at relevance. Or at least that’s how it looks from 2009. Hair metal, a genre rivaled only by R&B of the 2000’s (with the possible exception of R. Kelly, whose peacocking has a self-awareness about it that makes him more Mick Jagger than Bret Michaels) for replacing the traditional role of genuine emotion in music for self-congratulation while pretending not to, is pop music at its most vapid and narcissistic. It might feel like the moment that the jocks took over rock and roll, the music of rebellion, but listening to it today, it sounds more like music by and for sociopaths.
After mood-setting intro ‘TNT (Terror ‘N Tinseltown)’, the album kicks into gear with ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ The song sets the formula for much of what’s to come: big bluesy riffs scrubbed shiny and shallow, perfunctory faux bluesman posturing from Vince Neil on the verses, anthemic, instantly memorable choruses delivered in Neil’s proto-Axl tenor. Songs like ‘Slice of Your Piece’ (with enough Beatles cribbing to make it simultaneously the bands thoughtless answer to both ‘She’s Heavy’ and ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’), ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ and ‘She Goes Down’ demonstrate the band’s complete and total emotional tone-deafness even as they successfully approximate traditional song structures. On the flipside, the band is tight and the more aggressive and attitudinal the song, the better it works, as with ‘Kickstart My Heart.’
But the songs that stick out on further are the closing power ballads, ‘Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)’ and ‘Time For Change,’ likely the stupidest two song combination in the history of popular music. These are the songs that so many indie artists dream they could write ironically, songs in which the ideas of emotion (‘Don’t Go Away Mad) and social responsibility (‘Time For Change’) stand in for the real things. Even better, the band is unable to conceal the casual, self-centered misanthropy at the center of its aesthetic. Both songs could work as satire and ‘Time For Change’ with its pomp and seemingly infinite refrain of “Change” is best enjoyed as a joke. ‘Don’t Go Away Mad’ is even funnier, but in it’s own way it’s the band’s most honest moment and a neat encapsulation of the album.
This new reissue comes with demos from the Dr. Feelgood sessions and some live tracks from a stop in Russia, but there are no revelations here. The band is such a product of the studio that the demos sound like the album tracks sound like the live versions. Dr. Feelgood stands on it’s own though as the apotheosis of hair metal, an amalgamation of pop melodies, loud guitars and excess that signifies absolutely nothing else.