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1. Loyal to the Lie
2. Broken on the Inside
4. Killing Breed
6. Right Side of Wrong
7. Ready to Roll
9. Ain't Going Back
10. LA Noir
When Mick Mars stepped back from touring with Mötley Crüe – the band he co-founded more than 40 years ago – following their massive summer 2022 Stadium Tour, it seemed like the end of an era. Really, it was the beginning of a new one.
The legendary guitarist, whose riffs, solos and overall devastatingly heavy sound powered the L.A. icons through four decades of world-conquering, multi-platinum sonic mayhem is, as he demonstrates on his debut solo effort, still a serious force to be reckoned with. Only now, listeners are reckoning with more Mars than ever before. “When it comes to my playing, there’s the Mötley side and the Mars side,” the guitarist says. “Either way, I always have a very clear vision of what I want to do.”
On the aptly-titled The Other Side of Mars, fans get that vision in its full, multifarious glory. To be sure, there are plenty of characteristically riff-tastic, tough-as-nails hard-rock anthems (the rampaging “Loyal to the Lie,” the deep-in-the-pocket groove-rocker “Ain’t Going Back,” the hooky and melodic “Right Side of Wrong”) to be heard on the record. But The Other Side of Mars also shows the 71-year-old guitarist heading into new and uncharted territory, tearing through caustic, modern metal (“Broken On the Inside”), conjuring gothic-tinged soundscapes (“Undone”), digging into anguished, slow-burning power balladry (“Killing Breed”) and unspooling bluesy, cinematic instrumental workouts (the album-closing guitar showcase, “L.A. Noir”). The music throughout the 10-track collection, meanwhile, is otherwise studded with slide guitars, violins, violas, keyboards, glitchy freak-outs and all manner of sonic surprises.
“There’s a lot of ideas that I have that, I don't want to call them ‘left,’ but they are, you know what I mean?” Mars says. Regarding those stylistic turns, he continues, “My feeling has always been, I might gain some fans, I might lose some fans. But what they’re hearing, it’s all me.”
The guitarist enlisted a crack team of musicians to help him along the way. A key contributor to the project was Winger and former Alice Cooper keyboardist (and, like Mars, Nashville resident) Paul Taylor, who, in addition to performing on the record and assisting Mars in co-writing many of the tracks, introduced the guitarist to powerhouse vocalist Jacob Bunton. “Jacob came into the studio and it was like, bam!” Mars recalls. “And I just said, ‘Yeah, he’s the guy.’ And most of his vocals were one take.” The supporting band was rounded out by Korn drummer Ray Luzier, as well as two additional in-demand Nashville musicians: bassist Chris Collier and singer Brion Gamboa, who contributed lead vocals to two songs, “Undone” and “Killing Breed,” both of which, Mars says, “required a little bit more of an angsty, desperation kind of thing. And Brion really came to the table with that.”
But while Mars surrounded himself with a new cast of players for the sessions, there was one figure who represented a significant link to his storied past: Michael Wagener. The much-lauded German producer and engineer worked behind the boards on Mötley Crüe’s 1981 debut, Too Fast For Love, and his relationship with Mars stretches even further back. “I had known him for a long time, and I actually brought him to Mötley,” Mars says. Working with Wagener this time, the guitarist continues, “he had such an understanding of where I wanted to go with the material. And he never said ‘Hey, do this,’ or tried to change my mind or anything like that. He was just really adamant about recording what I wanted to record, and making sure we recorded it right.”
The result is a record unlike anything Mars has offered up in his more than 40-year career. Take the piano-and-strings track “Memories,” which, Mars recalls, he began writing “back when I was still touring with Mötley. I gave it to Paul Taylor, and I had him transpose all my parts to keyboard. And then I said, ‘That’s it.’ I didn’t want any drums, I didn’t want any over-the-top, here-comes-the-sun-over-the-mountains in the chorus kind of crap. I wanted to keep it simple, and focus on the melody.”
Or “L.A. Noir,” which, Mars says, was inspired by “old ‘30s and ‘40s B-movies about sleuth detectives, flatfoots, private eyes, that kind of stuff. I came up with the main lick maybe 30 years ago, and never really had a chance to do anything with it until now. I love that big-band sound and era, so we tried to capture that, but with a real sleazy, noir-ish vibe.”
As for the album’s leadoff track and first single, “Loyal to the Lie”? Well, that one was easy. “I wanted to do something that was just big and mean,” Mars says with a laugh.
But no matter what direction he’s going in on The Other Side of Mars, what ties it all together is “that people are going to hear my tone – my sound,” Mars says. “I am what I am. Nobody else can do it. And like everyone, I’ve got a limited number of years. So I'm gonna do all I can to do a lot of stuff.” To that end, he says that even as he unleashes The Other Side of Mars on the world, he’s already working on a follow-up. And while he remains a member of Mötley Crüe (“when they need me, I’m here,” he says), Mars is no longer spending his days and nights in arenas and stadiums throughout the world. Which means, he says, he has more time to pursue his own musical muse.
“I'm trying to keep growing,” Mars says. “Because if you stop learning new things, if you stop playing new things, if you close your mind, you’re done. You have to keep moving and creating. Next!”