S & M

In every dream home a heartache....

In every dream home a heartache.

With worldwide record sales at 60 million and counting, you’d think that [a]Metallica[/a] had nothing left to fear. The houses in Bel Air are paid for, a nation of devotees live and die by their every grunting powerchord and if money can’t buy them love, then it’s more than capable of furnishing them with a reasonable alternative. Strange that in the midst of this dreamworld, they find themselves beset by anxieties.

For [a]Metallica[/a] are a metal band and, perhaps unfairly, can all too easily be dismissed as loveable dimwits as a consequence. ‘S&M’, in one sense, is their response to these spectral criticisms. Sure, it’s a heavy metal live album but it’s got a big, fuck-off orchestra on it too, and as The Verve and Embrace have already proved, with a string section behind you, it really is impossible for anyone to think you’re a bunch of thickies.

Bonnng! Sadly not so. ‘S&M’ is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and any listener who is not disconsolately staring out of the window within an hour should be applauded shortly before being carted away for counselling. Michael Kamen‘s score allows the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to wrap themselves lovingly around [a]Metallica[/a]’s music, but can do little more than highlight the simple brutality of their glowering noise. This clash of cultures is not without its finer moments with ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ and ‘Hero Of The Day’ both benefiting from Kamen‘s kitchen-sink assault, but as the symphonic brush is applied indiscriminately to every track ‘S&M’ can’t help but become a slightly futile exercise; most of the songs sound better spared of their oppressive backwashes and some, ‘One’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ in particular, sound positively silly with it.

The mistake is in overburdening demurely primitive rock with complicated backing. The discipline of the orchestra will not allow [a]Metallica[/a] any space to improvise, and pins them down to performing fairly stilted retreads of existing studio versions. Rather than transmogrifying them into the visionaries that they clearly want to be, ‘S&M’ shows a band of immeasurable taste and humility allowing one fairly pedestrian musical idea to cloud their judgement.

Thus we reach our obvious conclusion; that there really is nothing wrong with being a ‘proper’ rock band. The [a]Metallica[/a] back catalogue casts a titanic shadow over their peers and while their crusade to redefine themselves is bold and admirable, this particular exercise in cross-pollination has shunted them towards a dead end. Back to the raw meat then, chaps; falafel and soda bread really doesn’t suit you.

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