Revisiting Vince Neil’s Ambitious ‘Carved in Stone’
It seemed like Vince Neil had nothing to lose in the ‘90s, after losing his position in Motley Crue. So, he might have thought, why not try something left field? That might explain his ambitious second solo album, Carved in Stone, which was released on Sept. 12, 1995 – and, sadly for him, sank like one.
After his resignation or dismissal, depending on whom you ask, Neil had released the relatively solid debut LP Exposed, which reached No. 13 in 1993 (compared to Motley Crue, featuring the band’s new singer John Corabi, which reached No. 7 the following year.) But more in Neil’s life had changed – his wife, the subject of the album track “Forever,” had filed for divorce, his band had experienced a series of personal conflicts and his manager had died during the recording process.
When he turned his attention to Carved in Stone, Neil can be forgiven by wanting to throw everything up in the air – although perhaps less so for the direction he threw it in. Hooking up with the production team the Dust Brothers, who’d worked with the Beastie Boys on the classic Paul’s Boutique and would go on to work with Beck and Hanson, Neil aimed to do something different.
Listen to Vince Neil's 'Breakin' the Gun'
“I didn’t really pick those guys, they were kinda placed with me through Warner Bros.,” Neil said in 1996. “They thought it would be a good idea for them to do some rock and I wanted to experiment a little bit, so we got together. We experimented a lot, and went into recording a whole different way, and used a lot of computer stuff.”
Different it certainly was. The intention was to mix the classic rock sound Neil was known for with hip-hop and industrial influences, teamed with found recordings and the sampling that the Dust Brothers were known for. But much like Motley Crue’s own attempt to interpret current trends, it made the fundamental mistake of failing to engage Neil’s core audience while also failing to capture a new one. After throwing it all in the air, he made it to only No. 139 on the chart.
It’s easy to imagine the confusion a Crue fan might experience after pressing play to hear the album's opening track, “Breakin’ the Gun.” In a remarkable prediction of what they were about to think, an air-raid siren warms up to its fullest tone before being crushed against an Alice in Chains-type riff, which is in turn overtaken by yay-ing and scratching to a hip-hop backbeat. It might not even occur to some fans to listen out for Neil’s identifiable voice – or at least nearly identifiable voice.
Listen to Vince Neil's 'The Crawl'
The second track, “The Crawl,” is capable of leaving the listener equally bewildered. While it carries several trademark elements, they’re brought together in such a way, and under such a powerfully placed street beat, that it’s difficult to be certain the track was actually completed before release.
The song, like the LP, has plenty of strong moments, even if the target market wasn't particularly interested in them. It’s impossible not to feel a touch of the feelings the Crue could put on when they suddenly went serious when listening to “Skylar’s Song,” written in memory of Neil's 4-year-old daughter, who had died of cancer while the record was being made.
Listen to Vince Neil's 'Skylar's Song'
In 2000, Neil looked back on Carved in Stone. “That was before Kid Rock," he told Classic Rock: "So no one was really ready for it then. If it came out today, it'd probably sell 50 million copies." It was re-released in 2004, but didn’t achieve those sales figures; it could be simply because it was pitched at an audience that knew what it wanted… and it didn’t want that.
In any case, it’s difficult to imagine that the album’s failure, alongside Crue’s own downturn, didn’t contribute to the two sides joining forces again in 1997. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2010 that Neil attempted another solo album, launching the more traditional Tattoos & Tequila, a mix of classic-style originals and ‘70s covers.