VERSUS: Mötley Crüe vs. Van Halen III

VERSUS: Mötley Crüe vs. Van Halen III

Welcome to another edition of Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.

It this edition of Versus, we are tackling two iconic bands of the 1980’s. With two albums that showcase new blood in the band, both replacing legendary front men, and both bands trying to adapt to the rise of the surging nineties grunge sound in hard rock and heavy metal. Both records considered divisive by fans, some even claiming the low points of the band’s discographies. Let’s take a look at this matchup in this battle I’m calling “The Battle of The One and Done

(L-R): bassist Nikki Sixx, vocalist John Corabi, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee

In this corner, we have Mötley Crüe with their sixth album, 1995’s self-titled album. The record is the debut, and also only release, of former Scream front man John Corabi, replacing former vocalist Vince Neil, who left the band during the recording of this record. With the addition of Corabi, the band was able to experiment more musically with Corabi contributing lyrics with bassist Nikki Sixx and guitar parts along with guitarist Mick Mars. Lyrical content became more serious with subject matter like music censorship, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and child molestation, which deviated from the 80’s sleaze and excess of sex and rebellion the band was known to sing about. Let’s take a look at this record to see what Corabi and Mötley Crüe delivered on this release.

Opening the album is the song “Power To The Music”, opening with a gritty, almost Pantera-esque riff, almost adding a groove metal sound to the track. Drummer Tommy Lee’s drums punch hard in the mix until Corabi makes his debut. Adding a more eclectic vocal range, at some points sounding like late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, which fits the heavier, groovier theme the band delivers on the record. With a great bluesy, into a classic Crüe sounding guitar solo, and thunderous drums by Lee at the end, the song is a great introduction to Corabi and the direction the band is going for with this new lineup. “Uncle Jack” continues the 90’s-era feel of the album with elements of the song sounding like a better produced Alice in Chains track, with Corabi attempting a Layne Staley vocal style through the main verse sections. A gritty, brooding, almost sludgy sounding breakdown closes the song with Corabi wailing with ooo’s adding an ominous and dark feeling, matching the dark subject matter of the song.

A standout track, as well as the opening single for the album, is “Hooligan’s Holiday”. With drums drenched in reverb and punchiness with every kick and snare hit, the song starts with a strong opening riff with Corabi showing his vocal range in the opening. The song has a classic Crüe feel to the song, but with a 90’s production and guitar sound. You can hear the alternative metal elements in the song, with vocals sound so gritty and raspy, it almost compares to M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold and his style of singing on later releases. I love the chugging, groove metal riff at the halfway mark into a country sounding guitar section before kicking into the guitar solo. “Misunderstood” has a nice acoustic guitar opening section, giving off a power ballad type vibe. With distorted symphonic elements and thumping bass and drums, the song cranks it up at the halfway mark with thunderous guitars and strings behind it. “Loveshine” is a more acoustic, almost campfire feel to the song, reminiscent of Extreme’s “Hole Hearted” in it’s sound and performance.

Another standout track for me is “Poison Apples”. The opening immediately sounds like classic Crüe in the sound with that opening driving guitar and thunderous drums. Vocals sound really good on the track, with Corabi’s gritty vocals adding more punch and attitude in the delivery. I love the piano plinking sound in the pre-chorus. Another great solo by Mars, with Lee keeping that driving rhythm section going during the solo. “Hammered” continues with that groove metal sound with another riff and drums section that sounds like a Pantera B-Side. Vocals get showcased more on the song with the band hanging back, letting the song breath, allowing Corabi to belt his heart out. Songs like “'til Death Do Us Part”, the original title for the album, continue the 80’s/90’s fusion the band brings with the record. “Smoke the Sky” continues that groove metal sound in the vocal performance and the band's delivery. The album closes with “Driftaway”, another strong power ballad and grandiose closer to this album.

(L-R): singer Gary Cherone, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, drummer Alex Van Halen

Their opponents are Van Halen with their eleventh studio album, 1998’s Van Halen III. The release marked the debut, and only release, featuring Extreme front man Gary Cherone who replaced former vocalist Sammy Hagar over internal fighting within the band. The band has said in interviews that with this record, the band was still recovering from Hagar leaving, the addition of Cherone, as well as adapting to the changing of the times with the 90’s sound and addition of pop to the band’s repertoire. With guitarist Eddie Van Halen being the main songwriter and driving force of the album, some have cited this as Eddie’s attempt at a solo record, with more experimental elements with the addition of multiple musical genres, song lengths, vocals, and controlling how the band recorded their instruments. Even playing more bass on the record then the band’s own bassist Michael Anthony. Let’s dive into this record and see how this record holds up.

Opening the album is the instrumental “Neworld”, a beautiful acoustic guitar and piano piece that almost sounds like a lullaby. Then, the album kicks off with “Without You”. With the opening drums and Cherone’s vocals making its debut. With a short verse section into a wailing guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, then back into the verse section’s main riff. Cherone delivers a strong opening with a high vocal range performance among the pop sounding chorus the song gives off. Alex Van Halen’s drums hit nice in the pocket, though simple, keeps the song going within the rhythm section, and into the chorus. Eddie starts to showcase his guitar skills at the halfway mark with a bluesy/country feeling guitar riff with Cherone rejoining him adding to the energy of the track. With elements of progressive rock with constant time signature and key changes, the song is a little all over the place and at over six minutes, at sometimes wondering when will the song end?

One I Want” almost sounds like an opening of a classic Van Halen song, minus the heavy distortion of songs like "Everybody Wants Some!!". With the drums and vocal melody performance, it picks up with the tempo and energy of classic Van Halen's early releases. Cherone, though sounding like Hagar at certain points, adds his unique vocals to the track and does make the song his own. With a strong guitar solo by Eddie, the song delivers that classic Van Halen feeling and attitude. "From Afar" has an emotional 80's power ballad kind of build to the song into a driving 80's guitar riff. Vocals really shine with minimal instrumentation in the verse section to let Cherone shine as the band builds with tension and atmosphere behind him. "Dirty Water Dog" continues the modernized version of Van Halen with that nostalgia feeling of 80's Roth-era Van Halen, delivering a machismo and sensuality in the vocals of Cherone.

"Once" gives off a very synth-driven song with almost giving off vibes of "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins, before the song builds with acoustic guitar and Cherone's vocal ranging hitting his highs into the chorus. "Fire in The Hole" is a standout track, where it seems like the band is gelling perfectly toghether. Everyone is firing on all cylinders, with the driving rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. Eddie Van Halen showing his guitar prowess and Gary Cherone hitting those highs and vocal harmonies make it probably the standout track and best track on the album in my opinion. Songs like "Josephina" and "Year To The Day" continue with the soft, somber acoustic openings into the trademark Van Halen sound with the band nailing that sound with Cherone's vocals. Making the songs his own and a great fit for his voice. The album closes with the song "How Many Say I". With unique bass hits, beautiful and intricate piano playing, and vocals by Eddie Van Halen, the album closes on a unique and eclectic track for the band.

After listening to both releases, which one of these releases had the stronger release? For me, in my opinion, the winner is Mötley Crüe with their self-titled album. With Van Halen III, the album seems to be lacking direction, with a lot of the songs being too long in length or missing a focus on what the track is supposed to be. Crüe's self-titled is focused, a great attempt at the band injecting their sound in new directions and new frontiers. With Corabi's more diverse vocal range, it fits the band and it's new 90's sound the band was aiming for. Cherone is an amazing vocalist, but overall at some points, it sounds like they got someone who sounds almost identical to Hagar.

Both bands would face singer changes after both releases. Vince Neil would rejoin Mötley Crüe for the release of the band's follow-up "Generation Swine" and would remain with the band today. Cherone would leave Van Halen after this release, with the band going on a hiatus until reuniting with original vocalist David Lee Roth. They would record a new album in 2012 A Different Kind of Truth, the band's last studio album and would tour in support of the record. Eddie Van Halen would tragically pass away from a stroke in 2020 and the band has since ceased to be as of this article.

I give both bands credit for trying to move on from their iconic front men. Branching out and trying new things with these records. Both records, though might not be as popular as some of their well known releases, they are still underrated records and definitely deserve a re-listen. Maybe at the time of the original release, they were not what fans were expecting. But, like some releases, they do grow on you with time, and definitely deserve a second chance.

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS. Mötley Crüe vs. Van Halen III - Online Poll -
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Mötley Crüe, Van Halen III…

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