Tag Archives: Metallica

Rocks In The Attic #638: Metallica – ‘Metallica’ (1991)

RITA#638The top-selling album of the past 25 years, or so the hype sticker says, this takes me back. When I was fourteen, this sounding like nothing else: heavy, thunderous, massive. Plenty of the bands I was into at the time were loud and heavy, but Metallica’s Black Album (as this record became to be known) just sounded huge.

Now, of course, it seems quite tame. Strip away the bombast and what you’re left with is a well recorded, well engineered and well produced heavy rock album. After four records of long-form songs that straddled the fence between thrash-metal and prog-metal, the band took a chance by employing Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.

Rock had engineered Bob Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) and Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation (1987), before winning acclaim for producing Mötley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood (1989). The big difference he brought to Metallica was in commercialising their sound, slowing them down in tempo, and shortening their songs. The Metallica of old would pack as many ideas as possible into one song, lasting anywhere between four and nine minutes, before running out of ideas. The Black Album’s songs are boiled down in their arrangements, to the extent that they become radio-friendly, almost…dare I say it…structured like pop songs.

As much as I loved it as a teenager, the record has definitely lost a lot of its appeal in the intervening years. Radio has done to this record as a metal album what it has done for Led Zeppelin II as a rock album: overplayed it to death. There’s no intrigue left. Hetfield, Hammett, Newsted and Ulrich used to be enigmatic (to a degree), but watching the band sit around with their analyst in Some Kind Of Monster (2004) showed that they’re very much real people, plagued by the kinds of insecurities and anxieties that stifle us all.

Hit: Enter Sandman

Hidden Gem: My Friend Of Misery

Rocks In The Attic #504: Rage Against The Machine – ‘Rage Against The Machine’ (1992)

RITA#504I’m fourteen again!

When I started listening to rock music in the early ‘90s, this was essential listening. There was this, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black’ album. All three were incredibly relevant to a teenage rock fan.

In retrospect, it’s really only Rage Against The Machine who were cutting-edge. Both Metallica and the Chili Peppers had taken five albums to get to that position; RATM had done it in one, a sterling debut.

Mixing rock and rap wasn’t anything new. The Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C. had been doing it for five or six years by this point, but that was rap sampling (or in some cases, playing) rock. This was the other way around – a heavy rock band, with rap-inflected lyrics, courtesy of Zack de la Rocha.

It wasn’t cutting-edge for long though. A year later in 1993, the turgid soundtrack to the turgid film Judgement Night featured collaborations between rock / metal bands and rap acts. Then the floodgates opened, and a thousand imitators came along. The worst, although regrettably the most successful, was Limp Bizkit – a band ultimately so terrible that I walked out on my weekly DJing residency in the early 2000s because the landlord of the bar asked me to start playing more Limp Bizkit.

The imitators might have got the mixture of rap over rock right, but they avoided the political stance of Rage Against The Machine, and most importantly they didn’t have the same groove. One hit-wonders Crazy Town (no, me neither) even lifted a sample from the Chili Peppers’ Pretty Little Ditty for their song Butterfly, such was their inability to come up with their own groove.

Killing In The Name seemed like a rebellious song to listen to back when it came out, purely for the outrageous lyrics in the latter half of the song. When it would come on in a club, everybody would pile onto the dancefloor, purely for the thrill of being able to jump around shouting “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” at each other. I’m sure de la Rocha intended the song to be a missive against the establishment, but he ultimately created a song for difficult teenagers to use as internal ammunition against their parents.

There’s a reasonably successful (in local terms) Manchester band called Nine Black Alps, featuring an old acquaintance of mine. Signed to Island in the mid-200s, I caught them in the New Band tent at Glastonbury in the same year, and I really like their debut record Everything Is. But in the last ten years or so I haven’t been able to listen to Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name without thinking of that ‘too cool for school’ acquaintance from Nine Black Alps. The word on the street is that prior to joining that band, he was on some performing arts course in Oldham where he had to do a public performance of the song as part of his final exam. To an audience of teachers, students and examiners they went with the more family friendly lyric “Flip you I won’t do what you tell me!”

Hit: Killing In The Name

Hidden Gem: Wake Up

Rocks In The Attic #444: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Shangri-La Dee Da’ (2001)

RITA#444.jpgScott Weiland, vocalist for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, was found dead on his tour bus a few days ago. Like most of his fans, I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. When celebrities die young, there’s usually some aspect of shock, but Weiland – like Amy Winehouse some years ago – provoked no such response. Sadly, it always seemed to be very much a case of when, not if.

Stone Temple Pilots were easily my favourite American band of the ‘90s. I first fell in love with Vaseline and Interstate Love Song from their second, self-titled LP in 1994. Weiland’s baritone vocals and the band’s Zeppelin-esque brand of rock were a nice antidote to the ‘too punk to learn our instruments’ aesthetic that evolved out of the grunge movement. Their cover of Zeppelin’s Dancing Days from the Encomium tribute album sealed the deal. These were guys who had a love and respect for the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Once I’d digested the singles from that second album – known to all as Purple – I went back to check out their first record, 1992’s Core. I have a firm memory of standing at a bus-stop in the freezing cold on Boxing Day 1994, listening to the opening intro of Dead & Bloated on my Discman. Man, it’s a heavy album. Not the type of heaviness you’d hear at the time from the likes of Pantera and Sepultura, but a heaviness that was steeped in the radio-friendly sound of classic rock. The thing that distanced them from those post-Metallica bands was the empty spaces between the DeLeo brothers’ guitars and Eric Kretz’s drums. STP weren’t rushing anywhere; most of their songs were mid-tempo and Brendan O’Brien’s production focused just as much on the light as the shade.

Then it all started to go wrong. Third album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop was doomed from the start. Released without anyone taking a lot of notice, Weiland’s drug problems outshined the record despite killer singles in Big Bang Baby and especially Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart.

After album number three, I turned off. No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da were released in 1999 and 2001 and I didn’t even notice. I’ve only just bought them in the last year or so to complete my collection. I do regret not hearing them at the time, but I’d moved on.

In 2010 my ears pricked up again. After a lengthy hiatus while Weiland was the faux-Axl Rose in Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots reformed and recorded another self-titled album. I didn’t think much of the material – too much water had passed under the bridge – but the album spurned a tour which reached New Zealand.

cc.11/14.15

Scott Weiland 27/10/67 – 03/12/15

I couldn’t believe I was seeing one of my favourite bands play live. They had avoided touring overseas back in the ’90s, for the same reasons that Aerosmith stayed in the USA during the ‘70s – addicts will always want to stay close to their dealer and not risk carrying anything over borders. Here they were, playing all my favourite STP songs, and when they dropped Crackerman just a couple of songs into the set, I could have left right there and then, a happy man.

Like most, I was concerned at Weiland’s recent woeful attempt to sing one of STP’s better known songs, Vaseline, with his new band (a video comparing the performance to when he could really belt it out is just horrible to watch). But there were the danger signs right there. He didn’t look like he should have been out in public; let alone showcasing his new band on TV. I’ll prefer to remember him in his element, blasting out Plush at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards.

Hit: Days Of The Week

Hidden Gem: A Song For Sleeping

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to….Led Zeppelin

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds in London’s ultra-hip late ‘60s Flash scene. In 1968, ex-session guitarist Jimmy Page recruited fellow colleague John Paul Jones on bass, and looked north to the Midlands for gigging vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Success came thick and fast, especially after they cracked the USA with the release of their second album. The flame burnt fast though. In 1980, the band screeched to a halt when Bonham was found dead, the victim of one (or twenty) too many double vodkas the day before.

27 Feb 1972, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia --- Led Zeppelin performing in Sydney, Australia (L-R) John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham and Jimmy Page --- Image by © S.I.N./CORBIS

I once had a letter – a letter! – printed in the NME. It was in response to an article where they claimed that Radiohead were ‘setting a new global blueprint’ by not releasing any singles or doing any press to promote Kid A in 2000. “Ever heard of Led Zeppelin?” I asked in my letter.

No singles? No press? And for the duration of Zeppelin’s twelve year career? It just goes to show that you can sell a heap of records entirely on word of mouth and an exhaustive touring schedule. It helps that the albums are nearly all close to fantastic too.

This was a very hard buyer’s guide to put together. How do you choose between so any great records, when tasked with only choosing three essential albums? Which ones do you leave behind? They’re all essential (and there are at least fifty good reasons to listen to the band)! Remember, it’s a buyer’s guide, so the following choices are aimed at those who are not well versed in the band’s back catalogue (if any such people exist at all).

Start off with: Led Zeppelin II (1969, Atlantic Records)

LZ1If the band’s self-assured debut set the scene, their second effort nine months later is the sound of them hitting their stride. Mainstream rock radio has taken some of the charm out of this record – redefining it almost as a greatest hits record – but there are still some surprises to be found. The interplay between the musicians on The Lemon Song is a prime example of how confident they had become in such a short space of time – just one highlight on an album full of highlights. Recorded at a number of different studios across England and America, while the band was touring, it’s an album of contradictions. It sounds heavy and light all at the same time; tight but loose; joyous and melancholic. Like the glare of a full moon in the roasting midday sun.

Follow that with: Led Zeppelin IV (1971, Atlantic Records)

LZ2IV is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the band were so sure about it, they released it without an official title and without the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ appearing anywhere on the cover or the record itself. The glaring hit on the album is Stairway To Heaven, despite never being released as a single, but the first side starts with two of the band’s biggest songs – Black Dog, a time-shifting stop-start rock masterpiece; and Rock And Roll, the band’s ode to late ‘50s music with the little help of a Little Richard drum pattern (by this time the band were well known for their musical kleptomania). The real gem of what used to be my choice hangover record throughout my teens however is the final track, When The Levee Breaks – the band’s last full-on blues cover (of a Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927) and featuring quite possibly the finest drum intro ever committed to vinyl.

Then get: Led Zeppelin III (1970, Atlantic Records)

LZ3Imagine Metallica following their self-titled Black Album with a jazz record, or the Sex Pistols recording a country and western album after their sneering 1977 debut. That’s about the level of genre-flipping between Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III. To write songs that would form the basis of the album, Plant and Page retreated to a cottage in the Welsh countryside without electricity or running water. You can almost smell the rustic setting as the band replaces heavy blues for eastern-tinged bluesy folk, on what is undoubtedly the album where Zeppelin proved they were more than just long-haired headbangers.

Criminally overlooked: Coda (1982, Swan Song)

LZ4It is what it is – a bunch of left-over songs from various stages in their career, released as a bookend to the band’s 12-year reign – and for that reason it usually gets the cold shoulder. But some of these tracks were simply left off albums due to the space limitations of a single-disc LP. So to fulfil some contractual obligations to Atlantic Records, we get a Led Zeppelin III outtake, a Houses Of The Holy outtake, three In Through The Out Door outtakes, a couple of live songs and a drum workout – Bonzo’s Montreaux – which for me is the thundering highlight of the album.

The long-shot: In Through The Out Door (1979, Swan Song)

LZ5A lot of people don’t like the band’s final studio record because Jimmy Page’s guitars take somewhat of a back seat compared to prior albums. In his place, the keyboards of John Paul Jones play a more prominent role on what is arguably the most challenging record to unlock. Like most, I wrote In Through The Out Door off when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me over the years and while some of the keyboards sound a little too carnival-y, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Avoid like the plague: The Song Remains The Same (1979, Swan Song)

LZ6There really aren’t any Zeppelin albums to put into this category but at a push I’d have to offer this, their first officially released live album – a soundtrack to the convert film of the same name. What’s not to like? Well, it was pompous, overblown music like this that resulted in the British punk explosion from the summer of 1977 onwards. Who wants to listen to a sleep-inducing  twenty seven minute rendition of Dazed And Confused? Not me, that’s for sure. Where prog bands such as Pink Floyd can easily fill one side of a record with one song, Zeppelin really struggle to keep interest levels up. It may have been a joy if you were there, stoned out of your mind, but you’d need a lot of drugs to find this song exciting at home. The concert film struggles to pique my interest too – so ponderous that they had to intersperse it with cinematic cut-scenes. There are great moments on this record – not least Bonham’s amazing drum work – but this is probably the Zeppelin record I play the least.

Best compilation: Remasters (1990, Atlantic Records)

LZ7My introduction to the band, Remasters was the first Zeppelin compilation; a greatest hits set from a band that didn’t release any singles in the UK (until Atlantic spoiled it with a 1997 release of Whole Lotta Love). What to include? What to leave out? The decision, as always, went to Jimmy Page – still very much the leader and figurehead for the band ten years after they split. The double-CD / triple-LP set was just a sampler for the full box set of recorded material that Page had digitally remastered, but is now universally seen as the definitive Zeppelin collection, no matter how many times they repackage it.

Best live album: How The West Was Won (2003, Atlantic Records)

LZ8Still to see the light of day on vinyl, How The West Was Won was released to very little fanfare in 2003 as a triple-CD; which is a shame as it’s by far their most exciting live album. The result of two West Coast shows on their 1972 American tour, the band sound very energetic and the atmosphere is electric. Page considered the band to be at their artistic peak during this period, and it shows. There’s definitely something to be found here that just isn’t evident on the Song Remains The Same soundtrack / snoozefest. By that time, Zeppelin were just going through the motions, showing the fatigue of another endless American tour. On How The West Was Won, they sound very much like what you’d expect from the band that had just released Led Zeppelin IV; the biggest band in the world.

I don’t tend to listen to much Led Zeppelin these days. I played their records so much through my teens that I know them like the back of my hands. When I do hear them though, blasting out of a car on a summer’s day or on the stereo as I’m flipping through the racks at a record store, it brings a massive smile to my face. I understand Led Zeppelin aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get that. Not everybody can have great taste in music.

LZ9

Rocks In The Attic #428: Anthrax – ‘Euphoria’ (1988)

RITA#428Apparently it’s illegal to send this band’s records through the post…

The Big Four? Metallica? Yes. Slayer? Yes. Megadeth? Yes. Anthrax? Hmm. For some reason, these guys never got to my ears when I used to listen to metal.

It does amuse me how these four bands have been grouped together in their own little club. Isn’t thrash supposed to be full of ‘stick it to the man’ f**k you attitude, with an innate desire to avoid the mainstream? Well, Metallica’s transcendence into a household name is another story, but doesn’t branding them altogether into a nice little package sort of negate their collective manifesto?

But as always, record companies will do whatever they can to make money, and if putting a bunch of bands together to sell some tickets / live DVDs, then so be it.

Hit: Antisocial

Hidden Gem: Now It’s Dark

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray

Rocks In The Attic #377: Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ (1991)

RITA#377Now this takes me back. If there’s one album that reminds me of my teens, it’s this one (and probably also the first Rage Against The Machine album). Blood Sugar Sex Magik is ingrained in my mind with being 16 years old, waiting for Saturday night to come around, getting drunk at somebody’s house, and then making our way into Oldham to go to Ambition – at the time, the only nightclub in town for anything other than pop music; one room indie, one room alternative rock.

Until I bought it recently on vinyl, I probably hadn’t heard B.S.S.M. at all in the twenty first century – remarkable, considering how much I used to listen to it in the 1990s. I gave up my CD copy a long time ago, and never bothered to seek it out since. I‘m amazed at how much I’m enjoying it – that first side – The Power Of Equality, If You Have To Ask, Breaking The Girl, Funky Monks and Suck My Kiss – is absolutely killer. It does wane near the end, but you’d sort of expect that from an album that runs at an hour and thirteen minutes. In any other decade, that’d be classed as a double-album. In the early to mid ‘90s, when everybody was filling CDs up to breaking point, it was par for the course. In fact, I had to return my first copy on CD to Picadilly Records as my stereo refused to play it. The disc wasn’t scratched, I’m just not sure if CDs were ever designed for that much content (the same happened with Metallica’s Load later in the decade).

I could harp on and on about how the Chili Peppers were a decent band, at the cutting edge of the zeitgeist, when they released this. But I won’t. I just remember the good times that accompanied this record.

Hit: Give It Away

Hidden Gem: The Power Of Equality