Album Review: Ace of Spades 40th Anniversary Box Set

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If you’re unfamiliar with Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” odds are you’re not old enough for the bottle you’re holding to contain anything stronger than baby formula and you probably never found your way to this site in the first place. So let’s just say of the album itself that there would probably be no Thrash or Black Metal without it, Death Metal and Grind would probably sound rather different, and be it a personal favourite or not, it’s one of a couple of dozen albums you need to be familiar with to ‘get’ heavy music. On to the anniversary edition, then!

It’s hardly uncommon for artists to receive the respect in death which they never did when they might appreciate it and BMG’s recent spate of Motörhead reissues are a lavishly bittersweet example. We mere reviewers are already treated to, aside from the album itself, two full live sets from the tour and an assortment of demo and instrumental versions. Motörheadbangers who shell out for the whole package also get a DVD, an “Ace Up Your Sleeve Tour” program, a book, a comic, and even some sort of board game (because “dicing with the devil.” right?), all in a damned fine lookin’ box!

So, what’s up with the album? Did they mess with it? It always sounded pretty good to my ears. Fear not, friends, it’s the same old Ace, just with a clearer gnarliness.

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Riders Wearing Black,” the Belfast set features solid sound and a feisty performance, if marred by a “truncated by tape flip” sub-minute “The Chase Is Better Than the Catch.” On the other hand, it finishes off with a full-length “Motorhead” which leaves me shuddering to think what Lemmy was tasting in the back of his throat while blasting through that one, as even “Capricorn” couldn’t “mellow them out”!

Dead Man’s Hand,” from Orleans, France, has possibly even better sound, aside from some dodgy vocal recording, with nifty flange on “Stay Clean.” The version of “Over the Top,” which I suspect I’ve heard as a bonus track elsewhere is sensational, the bass sounding like a heavy, gnarly bass, rather than a fuzzy, loud guitar as usual. Both sets include versions of “Leaving Here,” a cover it’d have been nice to see them keep in their set list, but this one is like an unstoppable drilling machine! The rendition of “(We Are) The Road Crew” rivals the “No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith” version in teeth-rattling intensity. It’s also worth mentioning that whatever substances Lemmy was on were working exceptionally well that night – his between-song banter is hilarious. “Thank YOU! BeauCOUP!” Not to mention the glorious fuck-up (and Girlschool-championing) of a tech issue during “Fire, Fire” or Lemmy, one presumes accidentally, inviting the audience to, “Love me with a reptile!” Or, “This is by John Lennon—it’s called ‘Bite the Bullet’!”

On to the outtakes and instrumentals! The “alternate version” of “Ace of Spades” is curious, indeed, almost utterly lacking in bass and with odd, proto-versions of the riffs! Some of the demo stuff, being demo stuff, crosses the line between ‘raw’ and ‘dodgy,’ production-wise. Any willing to look past the occasional imperfection will find wondrous stuff here.

Included in said wondrous stuff is the whole “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” EP. Girlschool’s “Bomber,” frankly, tops the original and we also get “Emergency” and Headgirl’s (Motorhead with Girlschool – an Ep is included on the album) version of “Please Don’t Touch.” Classics.

Dance” and particularly “Dirty Love” also have outstanding renditions. Aside from awakening one to alternate takes on classic songs, they remind one of what a classic album this truly is.

Real talk, as the rappers say: Dead musicians sell records and don’t complain about how it’s done. Anniversaries are emotionally affecting, particularly decade-ones. BMG wants your money. Those blatant facts out of the way, unlike Jack Daniels, who slapped Lemmy’s name on some of their gonorrhea-water almost before he was cold, the label has at least given you a worthy memorial. RIP (or whatever the atheist equivalent is) to Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke, and Philip Anthony “Philthy Animal” Taylor – the classic line up of the greatest Rock and Roll band of all time. As a certain chanteuse once bleated, we will always love you. I can’t comment on the material I haven’t seen, but it’s a solid release based on the audio. If the price is right, snag(gletooth) it. It’s fast; it’s philthy, and lemme tell ya, it motors.

Rating – 4.5/5

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