"That's cool," he says via phone from a tour stop in Virginia Beach. "I like that. I think our band is about having fun, having sex, and just being what a rock and roll band is and nothing more, nothing less."
At the height of their popularity in the '80s -- a decade known for hairsprayed manes, spandex, loose women, and heavy drug use -- the members of Mötley Crüe lived a life that was "too fast for love," as the title of their 1981 debut put it. Between Neil's 1985 conviction for vehicular manslaughter, drug overdoses, and sexual improprieties (Neil and former drummer Tommy Lee have both been captured in the act in bootleg videos), Mötley Crüe stayed in the headlines even after it fell off the charts.
That Neil is still with the group is a wonder, since, in 1992, the group unexpectedly kicked him out and two years later recorded an embarrassing (even by Crüe standards) self-titled disc with singer John Corabi. Neil rejoined the group for 1997's Generation Swine, an album that was supposed to put the band back in the hard rock spotlight. But with songs such as "Brandon," a ballad Lee wrote for his newly born son, the album only further damaged the band's already dwindling reputation.
"I was really unhappy, because I think we were manipulated by our producer [Dave Ogilvie], who was sort of a chart chaser," bassist Nikki Sixx says of Generation Swine. "He's very close to the band, and we're in this pool together, and he poisoned the water. It was a very negative experience. There's some great songs, but I don't think they got to be Mötley Crüe songs."
While both Sixx and Neil refer to New Tattoo as a return to form, the band had to make the record without drummer Tommy Lee, who left last year to devote all his time to Methods of Mayhem, a rap-meets-metal hybrid that attempts to cater to the Limp Bizkit/Korn set. Neither Sixx, who says Lee brought the group "weird manipulating drama," nor Neil shies from badmouthing Lee.
"You have to remember that me and Tommy grew up together," Neil says. "Tommy just tries to fit in with whatever the new thing is. If he had a pair of tits, he'd be a Spice Girl. He sees that rap is cool, so then he becomes a rapper. The Tommy I grew up with was a really cool guy. I don't know who this guy is, but he's not a rocker, and I really never see myself playing in a band with him again. Whatever the next fad is, he'll follow that along too when the rap thing doesn't work. Whatever it happens to be, he'll try to attach himself to it. He wanted to be a rapper; now he has dreadlocks, and he's a rapper. That's why he left. I'll never play with him in a band again."
With Lee out of the picture, the band enlisted veteran rock drummer Randy Castillo (of Ozzy Osbourne fame) and returned to the formulas that worked so well two decades ago. With references to sex ("Hell on High Heels"), drugs (a cover of the Tubes' "White Punks on Dope"), and rock and roll ("She Needs Rock and Roll"), there's nothing new about New Tattoo. Even the declining number of die-hard Mötley Crüe fans will have a problem with the album's lack of creativity. It's suggestive, too, that Sixx's side project, 58, has released a better album with the glam- and industrial-rock-influenced Diet for a New America -- not that either Sixx (who says Crüe is "a fun band to be in, trust me -- it's like Animal House on steroids and Marshall stacks") or Neil would think of pulling the plug on Mötley Crüe.
"Talk of disbanding the band?" Neil asks, as if he can't fathom the question. "No. I mean, look, we just put out a great new album, and fans are coming out. It's a great tour. We've never talked about not continuing on. When Tommy left the band, he didn't want to be in rock and roll anymore. He wanted to be a rapper. So there was no reason for us to split up because Tommy decided to do something different. We just went ahead and got a pure rock drummer that wanted to play in a rock and roll band."
To Neil, change is no longer in his vocabulary.
"We did that on Swine, and it didn't work," he says. "We are what we are, and that's why with this record, we had to go backwards to go forwards. We go, 'What is the Mötley Crüe sound?' And I think we captured it on this album. People like you for a reason, and there's no reason to mess with the formula. It's not brain surgery. It's big, hooky choruses, mixed guitar sound, and Nikki's snotty lyrics; you put those together, and it's Mötley Crüe. I think this is one of the best albums we've ever put out."
In a summer filled with reunion tours from the likes of old-school metal bands such as Poison and Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe isn't alone. Neil might argue that the band has a legitimate reason for touring because it has a new album out, while others are only supporting greatest hits releases. But when confronted with the possibility that Mötley Crüe has become a parody of itself that has more in common with Spinal Tap than the cutting-edge metal bands of the new millennium, Neil resorts to rhetoric about the group's lack of pretenses.
"A parody?" repeats a dumbfounded Neil. "No. It's called just being in a band. People just analyze this shit way too fucking hard. We just do what we do. We play music, we write music, and go out and tour. We're not trying to make a point of anything. The way the crowds are out there, it's working. We just do what we do, and people like that. It's all we're about. It's just having fun."
But isn't Neil worried about not getting respect or credibility, at least one day?
"No, not really," he shoots back. "We've never been a critics' choice. We've never won a Grammy. It doesn't really matter. It's the fans that are what it's all about, coming to hear you and listening to your music. And that's really it. We don't care what anybody else has to say about us."