On paper, the idea of today’s country stars throwing a retirement party for Mötley Crüe, the Sunset Strip-bred miscreants who are saying farewell to the road after 33 years, makes sense. Big-tent country has, in many senses, become the arena rock of the 21st century, with its combination of larger-than-life guitars and dude-next-door frontmen. But this tribute to Mötley’s body of work also shows how music has changed since the band’s early days, when even dudes in leather pants and lots of hairspray could have slightly off-kilter pitch on a radio-ready track.
The best moments come when the band’s songs are used as jumping-off points instead of exact blueprints. The Mavericks’ spaghetti-Western retooling of “Dr. Feelgood” is probably the most successful reinvention; it transforms the band’s storming tale of a drug kingpin into a cautionary tale directed by Quentin Tarantino. Big & Rich’s rave-up “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” is pleasant, although in the light of 2014 the “wait, she’s really a lesbian??” lyrics seem a bit quaint. LeAnn Rimes transforms “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” from a rebel-teen anthem into an older, wiser woman’s invitation to debauchery. And Lauren Jenkins’s stark “Looks That Kill” inverts that track’s invective in a way that it sounds like it could be an updated version of “Jolene” or maybe even “Kerosene.”
But there are duds as well. Rascal Flatts’ “Kickstart My Heart” opens the album, and Gary LeVox’s blandly “rocking” performance makes one wonder if he realizes that the song’s central metaphor isn’t about a car, but about Nikki Sixx coming back from the dead. Reworks of “Without You” (by Nashville stars Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen) and “Time for Change” (by Darius Rucker” play up those ballads’ AM Gold bona fides, but seem superfluous. Then there are the efforts of Florida Georgia Line (“If I Die Tomorrow”) and Justin Moore (“Home Sweet Home”), which are solid, but marred by vocals that sound as shiny as Mötley frontman Vince Neil’s lip gloss during the Theater of Pain era — Neil’s phlegmatic screeches and wavering on certain notes might seem impossibly out of step with the computer-assisted era, but they helped ground his band’s over-the-top tendencies. This album is, overall, reverent, but a few more scuffs might have helped this record serve as an even more appropriate tribute.