Ace of Spades — Deluxe Collector’s Edition Box Set (BMG)
It’s 40 years since British metal icons Motorhead released the Ace of Spades album, and we’re coming up on half a decade since we lost Lemmy. The beloved, gruff-voiced but beautifully warm frontman might have been born in Stoke, England, but he considered Los Angeles his home for much of his life and, famously, was pretty much a part of the furniture at the Rainbow when not on tour.
So it’s important that we celebrate this anniversary appropriately. After all, while Ace of Spades is the band’s fourth album (after the self-titled, Overkill and Bomber), it’s their most iconic and commercially successful. Not that too many Motorhead fans give a shit about commercial success, but still. It peaked at number four in the UK charts and was certified gold. Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, the title track remains the band’s most recognizable song by some distance. It is in fact one of the most recognizable songs that the metal genre has gifted us with, along with Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” among others.
That album is included in this extensive and exhaustive box set, mastered at half-speed from the original master tapes which, if you’re not a studio-head, essentially means that the quality is improved. Besides that, there’s really not a lot left to be said about the album that hasn’t already been said. It opens with that perfect title track, and the likes of “Love Me Like a Reptile,” “(We Are) the Road Crew,” “Jailbait” and “Bite the Bullet” whizz past at something that would be very difficult to describe as half speed.
It’s no wonder that, back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, punks embraced Motorhead as much as the metal-heads did. Whereas a lot of hard rock albums from this period can sound a little leaden and maybe a bit clunky today, Ace of Spades still sounds fiery, dirty, raw and wonderfully nasty, and it’s dated remarkably well.
So what else do we get in the deluxe box set? Well, much like the equally amazing Made in 1979 box that came out last year, this thing is packed with goodies. The live album recorded in Belfast in December 1981, Riders Wearing Black, showcased a fired-up Motorhead clearly enjoying some Christmas spirit. Lemmy, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor banter back and forth with the crowd and each other as they blast through what were, at the time, new songs from Ace of Spades as well as crowd favorites such as “Overkill,” “Bomber” and “Motorhead.”
“GREAT BIG HAIRY IRISH BOLLOCKS!” Lemmy screams at the crowd to wind them up, and those of us listening for the first time four decades later are left to wonder about what it must have been like to have been at one of these shows and hear these now-adored songs for the first time in a live environment. Judging by the crowd noise, it was fucking awesome.
There’s another live album included here too, Dead Man’s Hand, recorded in France a few months earlier. The set list was slightly different (Orleans got “Fire Fire” and “Love Me Like a Reptile” but no “Motorhead”), but the performance is remarkably consistent. Out of the two, the Northern Irish set is the better, but not because Motorhead were musically any less extraordinary – it’s more to do with the crowd enthusiasm. The Belfast crowd, possibly inebriated with some holiday joy, sound well up for it.
The live stuff is fantastic, and such a vital ingredient in what made Motorhead so important. But arguably of more interest is the masses of demos, alternative versions and instrumentals that are packed onto a double album called The Good, the Broke & the Ugly, and a 10” called A Fistful of Instrumentals. It’s a wonderful thing, to be able to hear a classic album take shape; alternative versions of “Ace of Spades,” “(We Are) the Road Crew,” “Jailbait,” etc are practically unrecognizable but for the lyrics, while b-sides such as “Godzilla Akimbo” and “Waltz of the Vampire” are fun to revisit.
So that’s the mass of gorgeous vinyl covered. But there’s still so much more. The inside of the lid is a game board and included is a special set of “poker dice” – we know that poker isn’t ordinarily played with dice but this is a specially designed poker-style game. Tons of fun.
Ace Up Your Sleeve is a reproduction of the tour program from the end of 1980 – mostly photos but with some cool words from Sounds / ZigZag man Giovanni Dadomo. Also from 1980 is Klaus Blum’s Rock Commando comic book, complete with a letters page (typical exchange – “Dear Motorhead, is it true that you are the loudest band in the world? Love, Jane. Motorhead Answer: Pardon?”). The artwork is wonderful and the story is goofy joy.
Most extensive is the Ace of Spades Story, a 40-page book of previously unpublished interviews and some awesome photos, embossed with a gold logo. Finally, there’s a DVD packed with TV footage, interviews and a short seven-song live set from the BBC in Belfast.
The packaging and artwork is frankly stunning too. The western outlaw theme from the original album cover carries over to all of the vinyl sleeves, the DVD sleeve, the book, and the actual box (which comes with a cardboard bullet belt).
So that’s the lot. It takes hours and hours to get through everything in the box, but fans will agree that there isn’t a wasted minute. Perhaps casual fans and a curious few can do without a whole record of instrumentals, but there are those of us who wallow in this stuff and this box set delivers.
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