Eleven Seven Music
All Access Review: B+
An EP featuring seven acoustic sketches of tracks from both The Heroin Diaries and This is Gonna Hurt, the two albums SixxA.M. has released so far, 7 comes wrapped in a cloak of gothic darkness. The oaken strings, the black-hearted piano that seems to drip blood and the rich, full-bodied acoustic guitar tones – all of it is ensconced in shadowy atmospherics, graveyard meditations and poisonous opium den gloom. Occasionally, however, the door to this dim crack house opens and lets in streams of hopeful, life-affirming light that make the half-dead inhabitants’ eyes wince. As for Sixx, he walked out of his own dungeon of lost souls a long time ago and hasn’t been back since.
As serious as the heart-stopping drug overdose in 1987 that almost killed him, Nikki Sixx’s side project is the very antithesis of Motley Crue’s revved-up Sunset Strip sleaze and gleeful immersion in a carnival of sins that nearly destroyed them all. He may vicariously relive his wild days through various Crue nostalgia tours, but the dangerous drugging and boozy escapades are a thing of the past for the now clean and sober Sixx. Therapy, though, is good for the soul and it seems to be an essential part of Sixx’s recovery from addiction. Sixx A.M. has certainly helped keep Dr. Feelgood at bay.
The Heroin Diaries, Sixx A.M.’s edgy, oddball debut, served as the nightmarish musical accompaniment for the no-holds-barred autobiography Sixx wrote in the mid-2000s that chronicled a life of excess so extravagant and scary that it made you want to vomit in the dirty toilet stall right next to him. And whatever skeletons Sixx had that remained in his closet were trotted out for Sixx A.M.’s sophomore slump This is Gonna Hurt. Less daring and not nearly as original as The Heroin Diaries, This is Gonna Hurt – released as a companion piece to another Sixx book, this one an artsy photo gallery of stark black-and-white stills – paled in comparison because Sixx A.M. played it safe. But, it did, once again, release some strong emotions that had laid dormant in Sixx’s damaged soul, and there were some well-crafted songs hidden among the weeds of familiar hard-rock tropes that touched nerves and raised spirits. Some of them are completely deconstructed and reanimated on 7, like “Lies of the Beautiful People,” the dramatic reworking of which opens the EP, and “This is Gonna Hurt” – the former cutting its wrists with a tasteful, tension-filled string arrangement, percussive guitar strumming and James Michael’s expressive singing and the latter a sparse reading of the title track to the second LP comprised almost solely of wounded, angst-riddled piano.
Bruised but not beaten, the uplifting new versions of “Help is on the Way” – as affecting a track as Sixx has ever recorded, its bittersweet violins arranged and played with great care and eloquence – and “Life is Beautiful,” its chorus soaring high on Michael’s impassioned wail, have acquired greater depth and meaning. If Sixx were searching for beauty among the ruins of his past indiscretions, he seems to have found it, although “Sure Feels Right” is a sickeningly sweet and cloying love song that’s as sentimental as a Hallmark card or Uncle Kracker’s “Smile,” which means it’s made for Top 40 radio. Only temporarily weighed down by those empty calories, 7 rights the ship slightly with “Pray for Me” finding salvation with some complex acoustic picking and yearning vocals that sincerely search for divine intervention, this laboring through a section of disinterested guitar strumming that would bore even the most forgiving folkie.
“Accidents Can Happen,” on the other hand, is a lovely, heart-wrenching ballad, augmented by searing guitar leads, about second chances and healing, themes that are dear to Sixx’s adrenaline-spiked heart. If Motley Crue is still out having a good time and staying out till all hours, Sixx A.M. is the morning after, where Sixx takes a good hard look in the mirror and thinks about mortality, God and pain. And these bare-bones revisions to previously recorded Sixx A.M. material, while perhaps not completely reinventing the originals, strip away the “sturm und drang” to reveal well-built song structures sturdy enough to support complex string arrangements and stand up to a hurricane of emotions. These are redemption songs, not for a visionary island martyr seeking to lead his people out of poverty and oppression but for a prodigal son of rock and roll who is still dealing with some heavy sh*t and is optimistic about his future.
- Peter Lindblad
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