Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Master of Covers

If you'd told me a few months ago that Metallica was planning to release a new album later this year, my response probably would have been, "so fucking what?" Then I would have laughed at my cleverness, because I'm a huge nerd.

My feelings did a pretty abrupt 180 after hearing Metallica's cover of "Remember Tomorrow" on the Iron Maiden tribute CD that Kerrang! recently put out. Gone is the crappy St. Anger production, and Metallica does an excellent job finding that all-important balance between making the song their own and keeping with the spirit of the original recording (a balance that several other artists on the record would do well to learn), producing a track that makes me wonder whether they might still have something interesting left in the tank.

I guess we'll find out soon enough, because the band announced the track listing and album artwork today. Themes of rock 'n roll martyrs ain't exactly Master of Puppets-level potential, but they could be interesting, and the open grave/magnet thing on the cover is pretty cool. Heck, they're even using the old logo font for the first time in seventeen years. But I still have my doubts:

First, "Unforgiven III"? Really? The original song was fine, but what bothered me about the sequel was the seemingly lazy decision to shove the tune from the original into the chorus and tie it all together with the awful pun off of "II/too." Totally unnecessary, and really a waste of what was a half-way decent verse line by making the song a pretty big joke. Even if Metallica doesn't try to pull the same trick again (what would they pun off of three? Something about trees, spoken by a "character" with soft palette problems?), the legacy exists. Metallica can be as out of the box as they want to, but if they're going to do something proggy like have a song cycle, don't make it sound like a bad action movie trilogy.

Second, I might be fooling myself by placing my hopes on a cover. Metallica are past masters of doing kick ass song covers, as a listen of all two-plus hours of Garage Inc. will happily prove, but doing a great job reinterpreting other people's material does not mean you've gained (or regained) the ability to write great originals. "Remember Tomorrow" is really more of a double-edged sword for anticipation: either it heralds a great new tomorrow, or one full of some pretty heavy disappointment.

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