How David Lee Roth Tried to Grow Up on ‘Your Filthy Little Mouth’
“Whatever happened to all of the fun in the world?”
The title of Frank Zappa's 33-second cut from Sheik Yerbouti was probably what David Lee Roth was asking himself on March 8, 1994, when his fourth solo LP, the provocatively named Your Filthy Little Mouth, arrived in stores to a frustrating mix of fan confusion, nasty reviews and, worse, widespread indifference.
But, of course, much of this was to be expected, given just how radically things had changed after grunge swept in and cleared out everything in its path. David Lee Roth and other artists like him were left gasping for breath in the ensuing vacuum. In Roth’s defense, while 1991’s A Little Ain’t Enough had vainly tried to keep the ‘80s party going, Your Filthy Little Mouth saw Roth gamely rolling with the punches -- both in terms of diversifying his sound and toning down his glamorous image.
This process began when Roth abandoned L.A. for New York City, where he was promptly busted for buying pot in Washington Square. Then he trimmed his flowing golden locks into a more sensible ‘90s hairdo and set about reinventing his music to match the times, and his suddenly more sober and mature frame of mind.
As collaborators for this daunting endeavor, Roth surprised many observers by recruiting onetime Chic mastermind and renowned producer Nile Rodgers, tapped Terry Kilgore as his main songwriting foil/guitarist and otherwise relied on seasoned session players, capable of tackling the LP’s eclectic mix of styles.
These included the sort of mainstream rock numbers one might expect ("She’s My Machine," "Big Train," "Land’s Edge"), plus country-rock ("Cheatin’ Heart Cafe," featuring Travis Tritt), horn-powered, girl-group-backed pop ("A Little Luck," "Hey, You Never Know"), lounge music ("Experience"), and even reggae ("No Big Ting") -- all of it graced with some of the most realistic and considered lyrics of Roth’s career.
In other words, Dave was finally acting his age. But while the album’s first single, "She’s My Machine," quickly high-kicked its way into the Billboard Rock charts at No. 12, overall sales would prove very disappointing in the long run.
That was partly due to the era’s unfriendly musical trends, but also possibly because the average Van Halen fan had trouble accepting the idea of David Lee Roth playing the role of worldly renaissance man instead of class clown. This rejection from his core probably hurt David Lee Roth more than anything else. After all, he essentially remained the all-purpose entertainer he had always been.
In any case, Roth would live to fight another day, but the immediate future would harbor even more trauma — beginning with the very public blowing of his chance to reunite with Van Halen witnessed by a global audience on the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards.