More than just a posthumous glance at Lemmy wearing the skin of other singers.
Motörhead wasn’t averse to covers. Its superb 1984 compilation No Remorse caught the band delivering blistering versions of the Dozier/Holland/Holland rocker “Leaving Here,” the country standard “Stand by Your Man,” an all-time-high take on “Louie Louie” and even Girlschool’s “Emergency.” The newly released Under Cöver is more than just a posthumous glance at Lemmy wearing the skin of other singers; it’s a reminder that Motörhead was, above all else, a great rock ‘n’ roll band.
With tracks that span from 1992’s sessions for March ör Die to 2015’s Bad Magic, it’s surprising how well the songs work as an album. Then again, Motörhead never broke much new ground from album to album. There were no space operas or progressive rock concept trilogies spread across four platters. From Orgasmatron (1986) to the end, the differences between one long player and the next became fewer and fewer.
Not that it mattered: Motörhead wasn’t about the subtle, though Lemmy would prove himself capable of that via co-writes with Ozzy and his rockabilly unit The Head Cat. To be fair, the band does do subtle quite well during the deeper reaches of “Sympathy for the Devil,” a song that may be overdone but still sounds ripping good. “Heroes,” the go-to Bowie track these last few years, retains its emotional kick and spark and Lem never sounds like he’s taking the piss out of the tune.
True to form, it’s the hard and heavy stuff that comes off best. Though radio personality Eddie Trunk continues to hold up the band’s 2005 Grammy for Metallica’s “Whiplash” as an example of an organization that doesn’t know its metal from a hole in the ground, the song didn’t win on name recognition alone. Motörhead may have provided a template for young Metallica, a group that would play to crowds and shift units the elder band could only dream of, but the song is hardly a tribute. Instead, it’s a master giving his apprentice’s work a kick in the arse and then some.
If there’s anything done with an air of reverence, it’s probably Twisted Sister’s “Shoot ‘Em Down.” Lemmy was an early champion of the New York quintet when it landed on British shores. For rock fans who only know two or three Twisted songs, taking a trip into the pre-Stay Hungry archives is well worth the time and this punk-cum-metal energy is one reason why. Motörhead doesn’t improve upon the original but instead reminds us that Dee Snider and friends were one of the fiercest outfits on the planet.
Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach,” which should have been a no-brainer, comes off as generic, lacking any of Lemmy’s spirit; “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” probably one of the most overrated songs in the Rolling Stones’ oeuvre, sounds like a headache amplified and the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” is nice but unnecessary. The ear lashing we take from Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” and a guest appearance from Saxon’s Biff Byford on Rainbow’s “Starstruck” gives a glimpse of what could have been a great New Wave of British Heavy Metal outfit.
No doubt there are rock fans still discovering Motörhead, and if this is your introduction, it’s not the worst place to start. But deep listening to the original group’s 1977-82 output should reveal why and how we’re still fascinated with this band more than 40 years after its formation.