If at the time Lemmy’s health issues were worrying to myself and many other Motorhead fans, Aftershock as an album helped soothe the anxiety. Mainly because Aftershock is just such a good album from start to finish, it hits the right notes regarding my personal life during that time and the landscape of the world around me.
Now and then, I find myself, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, etc., coming across the list, “Motorhead Albums Ranked.” This list compiles twenty-two Motorhead albums, excluding a few, including 1979’s ‘On Parole,’ and ranks them. Aftershock hits the list at number sixteen. These lists are standard with some critics, often placing the newer album releases at the bottom of the list.
When it comes to Aftershock, One critic notes, “Judged solely on its powerful first half, which was rife with fine and flexible creations like “Coup de Grace,” and the slow-burning “Lost Woman Blues” and utterly pile-driving “End of Time,” ‘Aftershock’ had all of the makings of a modern-day Motorhead classic. Alas, on the second half, the band just plain ran out of steam, resulting in an unusually long-player for Lemmy and team, but is it ever something special during the good bits.” In a way, I can see what this reviewer is saying as Aftershock is a more extended album. Though this is album is very special to me.
The issue for me here is that I feel because of Motorhead’s consistency in releasing new albums around every two years, many critics might have never given critical listens to the albums, specifically the lyrics. Lemmy’s vocals are unheard of, especially in today’s music. The reason being, he was well-read, even if he wasn’t well educated, academia-wise. Current Events, fiction, non-fiction, you name it, he read it. Lemmy read books; he didn’t rely on the internet to confirm his own biases on issues. In one quote, Lemmy said, “reading is the only thing that allows you to use your imagination. When you watch a movie, it’s someone else’s vision, Isn’t it?”
After his death a few years back, his lyrics became even more profound to me. Lemmy was a man that consistently stared death in the face and didn’t blink. A man that expected his death to happen a lot sooner in his life than it did. Death’s thoughts most likely caused him to think about it and maybe what comes after if anything.
Lemmy had a profound philosophical way of looking at the world and its issues instead of picking a side of the political spectrum then ranting and railing against the opposing side. When Lemmy wrote a lyric, he wrote a fantastic lyric. Something mostly unseen in music today.
Aftershock’s themes range from love and loss to Lemmy’s deep frustration with the state of the world around him. This frustration includes his hatred of politics and religion.
The album begins with a bang entitled Heartbreaker. Heartbreaker could either be a breakup song or a song that deals with the paranoia people feel about others and their slow decay of freedoms. As a band, Motorhead was never known for producing radio-friendly songs; this song could most certainly have been a radio hit, especially when the radio seems to think Motorhead’s only song is Ace of Spades. I can remember Heartbreaker having a significant impact on me with lines like “Time to get away from here. You won’t see me shed a tear”. I can remember at this stage in my life being stuck, not knowing where my life was going. The resulting feeling of being overwhelmed led me to want to “get away.”
The album continues with Coup De Grace. The word being, A final blow or shot given to kill a wounded person or animal. Similarly, another definition is an action or event that serves as the culmination of a destructive or deteriorating situation. At times I often wonder if this song was a prediction of polarization, especially in politics. The idea of people no longer listening to one another. People are siding only with like-minded views and blocking out dissenting views while confirming their own biases. “If you do not play the game, you will be cast out,” Lemmy sings. Many will attribute this line to just one side of the political spectrum, but the truth is that it happens on both sides. Politics relies on followers, not individualists, to thrive. “If you tell me dirty stories, I’ll be on your side,” Lemmy continues. People are attracted to “dirty stories” about their opponents, using them as a power play to humiliate their opponents in public. Playing Coup De Grace today sounds like an eerie prediction of a world to come.
The song, Lost Woman Blues’ might have shown Lemmy at some of his most vulnerable. Even though Lemmy once said he didn’t always write from his perspective and cited the songs 1916 and Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me as an example. Lemmy himself always came across as a rugged, no-nonsense individual, stoic if you will. Those close to him often told a different story about a kind and gentler man. Lost Woman Blues, if it’s about him, could prove that the latter was the case. The song is about a hard breakup and feelings of a broken heart that comes afterward. The music starts slow, building up to a frenetic pace before ultimately hitting that final crescendo. The song ends with the lyrics; “One man used her, One man abused her, She took it out! She took it out! She took it all out on me.”
End of Time gets back to the theme of Lemmy’s frustration with the world around him. The song is an absolute assault on the eardrums, especially if you’re able to play it loud. Mikkey Dee’s drumming drives the frantic pace of the music for its entire three-minute and eighteen-second timeline. With lyrics like, “Standing by the ocean, wishing I could swim. Wishing that the future didn’t look so grim”. Once more, we are back to Lemmy’s wish to get away from the world, and considering his multiple health issues and pain he may have been suffering to this point, it’s not surprising that he wanted to get away. Lemmy might have been most angry at the world he was leaving behind. Lemmy had come from the music of the ’60s and ’70s, a time of free love; he might have wondered where it all went so wrong? Where did humans begin to hate one another so much and have so little empathy for each other? In the end, End of Time is also about humanity’s inevitable demise and how by the time we realize this demise, it will be too late to fix.
Things turn to a happier note with the fifth track, Do You Believe. It is a song that harkens back to the classic rock n’ roll tracks of the fifties, albeit a bit heavier and faster. Do You Believe has to be one of my favourite tracks on the album, and just writing about it makes me want to listen to it again? Even if Lemmy had mounting health issues at the time, this song was a testament of him saying he’d had no regrets, singing, “Good or bad I love my life.” Motorhead had attempted to play the song multiple times, seeming to mess the track up often. Lemmy at a show quipped, “Now we’re going to play a song that we have fucked up every night on this tour, but we’re going to try and get it right this time, Okay.”
As the album continues, we have songs like Dust and Glass. I might write a different piece on this song another day and its impact on my life, but I will keep it short for now. This song may have been Lemmy coming to terms with his death, even though he wouldn’t die for two more years. In that two years, the band would still manage even to put out another album. If we go by the five stages of grief, I’d assume Lemmy might have been around the fourth or fifth stage, depression, and acceptance, respectively. This song was a look back at the painful road that is life. However, Lemmy may have been singing about life being painful in a passive way, arguing that even though it is painful, it’s only sad when you hyperfocus on that pain. Life might indeed just be suffering, and humans have to transcend that suffering by doing the things they love. For Lemmy, that love was music, specifically Rock N’ Roll.
The rest of the album continues. Death Machine, the sixth track, talks about the silence surrounding crimes that allow the crimes to persist. Going to Mexico, a possible play on Going to Brazil from the 1991 album 1916, is about running away from the law.
Silence When You Speak To Me, the album’s ninth track, gained some attention for the play on words. Ultimately, the song laments the loss of truth and at one point compares it to “A children’s game.” When they’re young, we teach our children always to tell the truth, treating it like it’s a simplistic rule. But as we grow older, we learn to lie, some more than others. Mainly when those lies help us gain at someone else’s demise, would this song also predict how the world would come to care more about emotions than facts across the political spectrum? The line, “I live on emotions. I eat your dreams,” may suggest so.
As the album gets closer to closing, Crying Shame takes the album back to a somewhat lighter note. Ultimately it’s about the one who got away, even if you didn’t know them that well. I, along with many reading, have had this experience multiple times. You see an attractive person at the train station who shoots you a look or whom you lock eyes with, only for them to get on the train going in the opposing direction. This song highlights that tragedy and laughs it off by calling it a “Crying Shame.” In the end, our lives are made up of so many of these moments until we find “the one.”
The album finishes off with the song Paralyzed. Another frantically paced track, driven this time by all three members of the band equally. Lemmy’s singing hints at the frenetic pace of being on tour and the experiences that come along with it, with lyrics like, “Flying over mountains, flying overseas, flying through a hurricane, praying on my knees.” As Lemmy recorded these lyrics, he, too, must have been hoping to get back out onto the road sooner rather than later and continue the life he was built to live. Lemmy wasn’t made to sit at home and retire; even in his sickness, I don’t think he planned on it either.
Aftershock is still the album I remember it being. When I was beginning this piece and sat myself down again to listen to the album, I remember thinking that I wouldn’t enjoy the album nearly as much as I did when I heard it the first time around. But I was wrong. Listening to the album on my drive to work, I realized again just how great this album was.
I still get that same feeling I had the first time listening to this album. Listening to the album, I’m stolen back to that cold October morning, walking into the HMV, picking the album off of the rack, then playing it in my first class of the day. I can remember that feeling I had, listening to the album for the first time. It’s a feeling I still get every time I play this album.
Aftershock could’ve easily been Motorhead’s last album. It wasn’t, of course, that would be 2015’s Bad Magic. But if it had been, the band would have most certainly gone out with a bang, similar to the splash I feel they created with their previous release, 2011’s The World Is Yours.
In the end, I love this album. I loved it then, and I love it now. I loved it so much I have three physical copies of the album. The original one I bought that cold October morning, the tour edition the band released a few months later, and the one that came with the box set I received one Christmas. I’d argue I’m dedicated, but I’m sure there is a Motorhead fan out there that’s more dedicated than I.