Sixx:AM began life as a creative collaboration between Mötley Crüe bassist, Nikki Sixx, former Beautiful Creatures and current Guns N' Roses guitarist DJ Ashba, and producer/vocalist James Michael, to accompany Sixx's first book 'The Heroin Diaries' in which Sixx published his diaries written during the height of his heroin addiction in the 80's, along with notes, feelings and thoughts from present day Sixx. The first album –named The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack – was a musical exploration of the main events presented in the book, with the lyrics often containing excerpts from the book.
Released in 2007, the book and album were a success – the book debuted at number 7 on the New York Times non-fiction list, with the album having sold in excess of 344,000 copies as of May 2011, and lead single 'Life Is Beautiful' gaining traction on mainstream Rock radio. The intention of the Sixx A:M project was to give a musical voice to the content of the book – but was such a success that the group decided to collaborate again – this time releasing another album and book combination under the title of 'This Is Gonna Hurt'.
In a difference between This Is Gonna Hurt (TIGH) and its predecessor, TIGH worked together thematically with the book visually supporting the music through Sixx's photography. The album was released almost four years after their debut, in May 2011.
Where the Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (THDS) was designed to be an audio accompaniment to the book, the album held together as essentially a concept album, telling the story of Sixx's heroin addiction. TIGH did not follow such a rigid concept, although the album does hold together well – even if it's not quite as cohesive.
As the trio of Sixx, Ashba and Michael had co-writing credits on almost every song on Mötley Crüe's latest album, Saints Of Los Angeles, released in 2008, the music will be stylistically familiar to those that heard that album. Unlike THDS, the music is more streamlined towards modern alternative rock, presumably spurred on by the success of 'Life Is Beautiful', which could be said to detract from the album. However, as the album isn't a concept record, the stylistic experiments that littered THDS are not necessary or missed. The group put out a record that would gel well in stadiums, filled with older Crüe fans and younger listeners, spanning generations of rock fans.
As all three musicians involved have made their names writing and performing rock music, this is where they excel. The rockier numbers on the album, like the 'Life is Beautiful' rewrite, 'Lies Of The Beautiful People', and 'Oh My God' are some of the album highlights. However, when the slow the tempo, as they do with 'Smile' it unfortunately begins to feel like filler – a disappointment after the back to back solid tracks on THDS. However, most tracks hold their own – and a benefit of losing the concept album tag is that each song can sit independently of one another which allows the group to add more variety to the songs.
James Michael acted as the producer on this album, which can be heard across the album. Anyone familiar with Michael's other work – like the Crüe's Saints of Los Angeles, will know what to expect sonically – loud waves of guitars, expertly and digitally processed to give maximum impact during the rockier numbers, and digitally processed melancholy on the ballads. So, in other words, modern rock production. All the musicians give good performances, with DJ Ashba, getting to show more of his guitar ability this time around.
Overall this album is a worthy successor to The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, even if it doesn't feel quite as powerful – and unexpected – as that album.