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Originally published at http://suite101.com
With the possible exception of Queensryche, there has never been a more controversial metal band than Metallica. Some bands have that one album that divides fans and frequently tops "all-time worst" polls but no one can agree on just how many times Metallica has royally screwed up over time. Thus, it's not too out of left field for them to collaborate with Lou Reed, an equally influential performer who has proudly claimed to have scared away the entirety of his fanbase in 1975 with the release of the infamous Metal Machine Music...
So with this to consider, is this pair's coming-of-age story about a 19th century prostitute who meets Jack the Ripper really such a bad egg? An overwhelming majority certainly thinks so but I am not so convinced. There are still moments on here that make one wonder how it would've turned out if it had been handled differently.
Despite the extreme musical overhaul that occurred between this and 2008's Death Magnetic, one can immediately notice how the production hasn't really changed all that much. The shift away from pounding thrash metal means the worst of the Loudness War glitches may slip under the radar for some but the tone itself still has an uncomfortably dry feeling. It's a minor complaint compared to other flaws on here but it's not the best of signs...
Speaking of which, the band members' performances don't stand out much, an observation made weirder by this being a very jam-oriented release. There are great guitar moments here and there but the drums only stand out when they're being too intrusive (Fix your kit, Lars!) and the leads and bass are next to invisible! And as everyone has pointed out, the vocals are ridiculous. Reed's burnt-out, spoken word style is surprisingly effective when compared to James Hetfield's howled contributions but there are way too moments where his Bob Dylan meets Christopher Walken voice just doesn't fit. Then again, it's hard to imagine a voice that actually would fit this music...
But like St. Anger before it, this album's biggest flaw is that it needed to be so much shorter. Both releases have a bad tendency to dwell on and revisit ideas for longer than it is necessary and both really would've benefited from tighter, more focused songwriting. There is no reason why this album needed to be two discs long; if the closing "Junior Dad" had been cut by 10-12 minutes alone, it would've been a much more enjoyable track and would've made the album as a whole less exhausting.
But while the songwriting is poorly constructed, there are some good songs on here. "Iced Honey" is easily the best song on here due to it being the most tightly constructed while still having a very laid back feel. In addition, "Frustration," "Dragon," and "The View" all have some solid riffs that would've fit a Sabbath-styled doom rock project if they were given a darker makeover. The album also has some songs that manage to present some pretty emotional moments. While they are too long, "Cheat On Me" and "Junior Dad" are fairly touching and the opening "Brandenburg Gate" sets up a somber atmosphere despite all the time James spends warbling about a "small town girl."
And like St. Anger, there is one thing that may redeem this release for some people: it's pretty damn hilarious. Even when ignoring all the jokes that have been made about James Hetfield being a piece of furniture, the lyrics are full of unintentional amusement as Reed laments being "spermless like a girl" and mutters something about a "colored man's dick." Some will brand the lyrics as being reason to hate this album but they really help give this album character in my opinion. It may have had something to do with me being surrounded by too many hipsters in the English department and thus accustomed to the ways of artsy-fartsy pretentiousness. Whatever it is, it does make for good entertainment...
As somewhat expected, this is a hard album to properly rate. Objectively, this is a pretty crappy album but there's just some force that makes me want to like this. Along with the new Morbid Angel, this is pretty much the Troll 2 of music: it tries so hard to be deep but you spend more time laughing than reflecting any sort of philosophical insight. If anything, this is a conversation piece that is meant to be discussed rather than listened to on a regular basis. Get it at a cheap price if you want to really join the discussion. If not, at least go buy the new Megadeth album; this may be the one time that Dave Mustaine has actually come out on top!
"Cheat On Me"