You know, it doesn’t happen often but once in a while, social media will throw me a freakin’ bone. Like this morning, Facebook alerted me how Motörhead’s Orgasmatron is now in its 34th year of existence starting today. To celebrate, I grabbed my vinyl copy to play down. I bought it two summers ago on a trip to Montreal and discovered it was still sealed. Oof. Besides the threat of coming into contact with COVID 19, I don’t know if there is a better argument for me to stay home and listen to what I have instead of going out to buy more.
Anyway, that is not to say I haven’t heard the album before. My Orgasmatron CD spent a lot of time in my five-disc changer in the ’90s, regardless if it does have some major issues.
Without getting too much into the whirlwind of band member changes Motörhead was experiencing at this time; in short, this is the first and only time the lineup of Phil Campbell on rhythm guitar, Michael Burston on lead guitar, and drummer Pete Gill joined founding member Lemmy Kilmister to record a complete album.*
Still, this drastic lineup change couldn’t affect the band’s overall sound outside of subtle nuance. Lemmy was still the primary songwriter, and his signature bass and lead vocals are too great of an anchor.
What does stick out like a sore thumb is the quality of the album’s mix. Bill Laswell, who had recently produced Mick Jagger’s successful solo album She’s The Boss and Peter Gabriel’s monster hit “In Your Eyes” among other things, was hired to give the studio recordings a proper mix for Orgasmatron.
In Lemmy’s autobiography, White Line Fever, he does admit to being laissez-faire with the process as he sent the recordings off to New York so he could live it up on a beach somewhere in the meantime. I’ll let the man himself tell you what he thought of it when he got it back:
“..As it turned out, Bill was good for getting sounds, but he fucked everything up in the mix. It was a much better album when he took it to New York than when he brought it back… It was dreadful. Orgasmatron was mud..”
Yeah, I don’t know if Laswell was going for a more punk sound or what. One of the album’s better-known tunes (and album opener), Deaf Forever is altered the most. The big guitar riff that drives the tune should be more crunchy with some Muddy Water’s style pauses. Instead, he uses a layering technique that gives the song a floaty vibe.
I do wish the original recordings would surface somewhere. But they haven’t, and we got what we got. So, how can this album still be #MarsApproved? For me, Laswell’s production style isn’t a complete deal-breaker as it works well for some tunes.
The slow riff of the title track, Orgasmatron benefits from his style. It gives the guitars a driving/droning feel that works for me. The same can be said for Doctor Rock, just at a faster tempo. And he does a bang-up job on Built For Speed. It’s big, chugging style riff is a solid match. It is probably why these tunes are the album’s best-known ones and remained as live show staples for a long time.
The rest of the album does feel off though. I think Laswell gave every song the same treatment instead of giving each individual attention. Regardless, Lemmy would be right, as the whole thing does sound like mud. Dang, we need a remix.
Having listened to the album for a couple of decades on CD, I was hoping the vinyl format would improve the experience and it does to a degree. I really appreciate how Lemmy’s voice hovers over the rest of the band on vinyl, where on CD it all feels flat by comparison. Believe me, I wish this were not the case. I wish CDs were good enough for me. Vinyl is getting so damn expensive.
Even without any improvements, Orgamastron is still a collection of nine unapologetically Motörhead tracks. Straight up, stick to your roots, record in 11 days, rock ‘n roll. Even if all we had were the lyrics carved into a potato, they would still be #MarsApproved.
*This lineup recorded four new tracks for the 1984 compilation album, No Remorse.