…not comfortable listening
Released 24 November 2017 and reviewed by Ian Savage
The ‘troubled rock star’ thing has moved beyond cliché and almost into parody over the thirty years since Nikki Sixx was pulling double-duty as bassist and “our generation’s Sid Vicious, c’mon OD already” in 80s rock legends Motley Crüe. In our more enlightened new millennium, though, the survivors of that decade’s decadence who haven’t faded away tend to plow onwards, sometimes using their experiences to forge something more objectively worthwhile.
Such is Nikki’s Heroin Diaries. Sourced from his journals whilst he was enjoying the worst of the trappings of Crüe’s success, the diaries go from Christmas ’86 to ’87, and were set to music by side-project Sixx A.M. (Nikki, erstwhile G’n’R guitarist DJ Ashba, and producer James Michael) way back in 2007, alongside his book of the same name. This 10th anniversary reissue, also marking Sixx’s 16th year sober, is intended as a commemoration, a celebration – and a warning, given America’s rising opioid crisis.
It’s not comfortable listening, lyrically; it’s the musings of a guy who had everything prepared to throw it all away for his next fix. The album manages to steer just the right side of preachy, though; musically, it shifts between beautifully jarring (opener ’X-Mas In Hell’, self-explanatory ’Intermission’), out-and-out rock which still stands up ten years on (‘Life Is Beautiful’, ‘Permission) and some very well-put-together music-plus-spoken-word (‘Girl With Golden Eyes’, ‘Life After Death’).
The use of piano and string pads (as well as some sublime production – listen to ‘Courtesy Call’ on headphones and you may feel a little woozy) pulls The Heroin Diaries apart from other Sixx side-projects like Brides of Destruction, and there’s barely a lyrical respite from the fact that this is a personal journey, first and foremost.
There’s even some re-imagined tracks on the reissue, with bigger production values and more ‘2017’ guitar sounds – actually, ‘Girl With Golden Eyes’ does sound better. The others… ach, it’s the lyrics that are the kicker here.
Yet it’s not self-indulgent… and that’s the highest praise that can be bestowed upon an opus like this. There’s plenty of rock stars who survived the 80s, and all of them have their stories to tell (sorry, I must recommend Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer’s book ‘Hit Hard’ at this point, because I must) but Nikki tells his story eloquently, with tremendous musical backing and without ever making addiction sound like fun.
We’re all pretty certain that heroin is A Bad Thing these days. Nikki’s diaries are a welcome counterpoint to the Crüe biography ‘The Dirt’, and the music on display shows you can still be dirty when even you’re clean. He’s apparently turning the whole thing into a play, as well as using his radio show to break new artists and getting into photography…
- X-Mas In Hell
- Van Nuys
- Life Is Beautiful
- Pray For Me
- Accidents Can Happen
- Dead Man’s Ballet
- Heart Failure
- Girl With Golden Eyes
- Courtesy Call
- Life After Death
- Life Is Beautiful (2017)
- Accidents Can Happen (2017)
- Girl With Golden Eyes (2017)