Track listing: 1 This is Gonna Hurt; 2 Lies of the Beautiful People; 3 Are You With Me?; 4 Live Forever; 5 Sure Feels Right; 6 Deadlihood; 7 Smile; 8 Help is on the Way; 9 Oh My God; 10 Goodbye my Friends; 11 Skin
Many side projects don’t create more than a ripple on the musical landscape so when Sixx:A.M. (lead singer James Michael, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, and guitarist DJ Ashba) sold almost 350,000 copies of their 2007 debut album “The Heroin Diaries”, many people (most notably record executives I’m sure) sat up and took notice.
The record served as a “soundtrack” to Sixx’s New York Times Best-Selling book of the same name – a memoir chronicling Sixx’s addiction to cocaine and heroin in the mid-80s. And, just like the debut, new album “This is Gonna Hurt” follows the same template. The new book of the same name has reached #4 on the NYT list while the album debuted at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The Heroin Diaries” was a fascinating project. It mixed powerful rock tunes (“Life is Beautiful”, “Pray for Me”, “Courtesy Call”, “Heart Failure”) with more mid-tempo rockers and ballads (“Tomorrow”, “Accidents can Happen”) and punctuated it with semi-spoken-track numbers that acted as an album narration (“X-Mas in Hell”, “Intermission”, “Life After Death”). “This is Gonna Hurt” is a more conventional record.
This is Gonna Hurt
The title track draws on Sixx’s own experience with being down and out (“Feels like your life is over/Feels like all hope is gone”) but offers a message of hope (“Rise against your fate/Nothing’s gonna keep you down/Even if it’s killing you”) and, ultimately, redemption (“There’s a devil in the church/Got a bullet in the chamber/And this is gonna hurt…Keep your secrets in the shadows and you’ll be sorry”). Fast, crunching guitars meet irrepressible melody.
Lies of the Beautiful People
The lead single and #2 mainstream rock hit takes a not-at-all-thinly-veiled swipe at those who think “real beauty’s on the outside”. Inspired by one of his photo subjects – Amy Purdy, an athlete who lost her legs at 19 – Sixx rails against the media-driven obsession with glamour and external beauty. Lead singer Michael laments how many of us are “outside the velvet rope/standing there all alone”, are “grotesque and ashamed” and insists that the beauty we are force-fed (by the likes of People Magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful People”) is “a far cry from the truth”.
Are You With Me?
It might be doing a disservice to “Are You With Me?” to suggest that this could be mistaken for a Daughtry track. The singer recounts the early days of a relationship (“Laughing like we’re crazy/Nothing mattered, nothing fazed me/We were younger then”) but acknowledges that things are not what they were (“have I judged a book by how its bound/am I lost or am I found/and are you with me?”). He encourages his partner to “come back from the dead/you’ve been inside your head for too long…Find the places that scare you/Come on I dare you”. Yes, it’s radio-friendly and familiar but it works.
Sticking with the subject of relationships, “Live Forever” compares the carefree early days (“You and I never really gave a damn/We spent our lives running through the wastelands”) to how the protagonist feels now (“Now, you’re the only thing left worth dying for/You give me a reason I can’t ignore/And make me wanna live forever”). From being “so independent, so high on ill intentions” to being “everything I’ve been waiting for/for all these years and a thousand more”). “Live Forever” is an exceptional rocker with a soaring chorus.
Sure Feels Right
“Sure Feels Right” takes it down a notch, a pseudo-country ballad with reflective lyrics (“The traffic’s backed up on the 405/And the smog’s so thick you could cut it with a knife/But it gives me time to think about my life”). With snappy references to diverse subjects like Sunset Boulevard, Sex Pistols, Jesus and Hollywood vampires. Nothing wrong with this whatever.
So just who is the “you” in “Deadlihood”: “I swear you told me, that you’d be my life support/Guess I misunderstood, you were my deadlihood”. Maybe it’s not a you – maybe it’s an “it”. Maybe it’s heroin. It could be the “insanity” that’s driving him insane and now its “star is burned out for good/Somewhere in Hollywood”. Sonically dramatic, convincingly powerful, this is another fine track.
A gentle acoustic ballad that wonders “What’s an angel like you/Ever do with a devil like me”. Michael shines on vocals (as he does throughout the album) and it’s punctuated by a sweet guitar solo by DJ Ashba.
Help is On the Way
If “Smile” is anything it is perfectly placed on the album as a buffer between “Deadlihood” and the rocking “Help is On the Way”. The hand-clap intro, ‘do do doo do’ refrain and soothing bridge give the track something a little different. The singer talks about troubled times – like when he feels he is “a paralyzed soul” and “a left out only child” who is “so unaware that my heart’s about to stop”. But he says we’re all the same and that “everybody cracks and bleeds/So hit your knees and pray/That help is on the way”.
Oh My God
After lashing out at the “beautiful people”, Sixx and Co take aim at society as a whole with the socially conscious “Oh My God”. Using the street birth of a baby (presumably to a homeless, teenage mother) as a symbol, the band underline our apathy towards such reality (“the truth is that we’ll never know her name/’Cos as long as we can fill our glasses up, we’ll look the other way”) while also addressing major global events (“it’s not far from here to New Orleans/Where the seemingly forgotten people are still foreclosen on their dreams”). The song reaches a stadium-anthem level crescendo (think U2 or Bon Jovi) with the chorus of “Oh my God, this is insane/How’d it get like this?/Or has it always been this way?”. Epic.
Goodbye My Friends
The piano intro suggests a halcyon ballad might be on the way but a thrusting riff and dramatic, brooding verse (very reminiscent of Muse) carry us to the hard-hitting bridge (“Isn’t life lived right at the edge/And when it’s not that’s when you’re dead”). The subject, seemingly in his final moments of life with “friends and lovers” gathered around him and “piles of roses” at his feet, tells us that there’s no need for be mournful (“Goodbye my friends/To hell with the sorrow/We have made amends…by this time tomorrow/It will be the end”). Fantastic arrangement, great guitar work again from Ashba – another winner.
“Skin” is a beautiful piano ballad. For those scared to be themselves, afraid of what others think, Michael suggests that you should “paint yourself a picture/of what you wish you looked like” and urges the fearful to “come in to focus/step out of the shadows…kill them with your kindness/Ignorance is blindest”. “You are not your skin”, he sings as the final chords close out the album.
If “This is Gonna Hurt” doesn’t find itself in the mix at Grammy time, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Sixx:A.M. are an act that are comfortable in their material, tight and focused as a band and, quite simply, write excellent rock songs. There will be trolling I’m sure about how the social justice and anti-A-List stuff is all just populist fakery from Sixx. But this would be a distraction and an irrelevance. A great record is a great record and this is one of the best in my collection.