Ahhh, twilight in the heavy-metal life: graying fans, expanding waistlines and grinding concerts that don't rock so much anymore as roll into the oblivion of state fairs. So it is that Tommy Lee rejoined the boys in Motley Crue to live out the cliche and drum up a few bucks with this year's VH1-sponsored "Red, White & Crue" reunion tour.
But what to make of Lee's work on his own? With the recent debut of his reality show and now a solo disc, "Tommyland: The Ride," which followed an autobiography of the same name, Lee might seem close to becoming the latest in a long line of rockers who refuse to go quietly into history.
Instead, Lee's CD successfully toys with a musical maxim of a whole different sort: reinvention. Getting away from the overreaching oddness of his previous solo work, Lee has turned out a collection of inoffensive, radio-friendly rock that could clean up the image of everyone's favorite home porno star in the same way that "Dr. Doolittle" washed away Eddie Murphy's homophobic, potty-mouth past.
Fittingly -- since the album is more about branding the new-and-improved Tommy Lee -- the disc opens with the strumming guitar of "Good Times," the theme song to NBC's teen-targeted pseudo-reality show "Tommy Lee Goes to College." The show, built on manufactured drama and aw-shucks hokum, sets Lee down at the University of Nebraska; the song, featuring Lee's Pro Tools-smoothed vocals, takes fans on a slow-paced, toe-tapping ride "to a place where the good times, good times roll."
Not content with potentially turning his life into made-for-TV mockery, Lee has cranked out song after song of made-for-TV music, the sort of stuff that accompanies Dramatic Moments and Touching Scenes daily in "Dawson's Creek" reruns. First single "Hello, Again" (which appears here twice, including an acoustic version) and the anguished growl of "Make Believe" cry out for montages of love-struck kids; "I Need You" is a rain-streaked window of post-breakup blues. "Makin' Me Crazy" is one of those Friday nights that go from humdrum dull to singalong romp with the requisite wardrobe change. (In "The O.C.," of course, that would all be set on the sun-drenched beach of Malibu, but Lee spent a semester on the streets of Lincoln. Here's hoping he stays out of the cornfields.)
It's nothing that critics will love, and Crue fans everywhere will probably cringe, but Lee has managed to embrace the sound that helps the modern-day purveyors of nu metal sell millions.
Proving that his tastes skew just as young as his target audience, Lee turns to Good Charlotte vocalist Joel Madden for the album-highlighting kiss-off tune "Tired." Answering all those fans who ever wondered how the drummer could walk away from a Playboy centerfold wife, the chorus wails: "Tommy got tired of Pamela / Ed got tired of Salma / Puffy got tired of J.Lo and Ben did, too. . . . I'm just tired of you." It's the clearest hint here of the bad boy who still lurks behind all those tattoos.
At 40-plus, Lee makes an easy target, the kind of over-the-hill rocker that VH1 would have to talk into putting down the beer, working off the belly and trying to revive his stagnant career. (Just ask "Remade" veteran and Crue vocalist Vince Neil.) Instead, Lee has done it himself. He's now talking about a sequel series -- maybe even heading off to the police academy, according to some reports. A follow-up album will probably (not so coincidentally) coincide. And at this rate, who knows, maybe even his next marriage will work out.