Friday, April 17, 2009

More Bricks To Throw at Metallica



Well, they did, they inducted the mechanical thrashers Metallica into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while my home town boys, Iggy and the Stooges and the sainted MC5 have yet to be given a serious consideration. As with anything else that begins as a good idea and then lasts a number of years beyond its relevance, the RRHOF seems to have ossified on all the clich├ęs that have ever been written to sell rock and roll as a rebel’s art. Sell indeed; Metallica seemed to have done nothing more with their recorded output except take the ideas of other bands and make them faster, louder, something like a cross between Deep Purple, Lou Reed and Yes in the ways the respective elements of chronic riffing, lower-rung rage and self-loathing, and over busily arrangements and rapid time signatures have been forced together in a shotgun wedding of stale ideas. Of course, we should think them elevated and serious; I find them patently ridiculous. Metallica are perfectly ordinary, and no amount of close inspection to their lyrics or their solos will make these fellas any less pretentious and annoyingly self-important. For guitar work, I'll take anything from Joe Pass , John McLaughlin or Steve Morse over the ostinato-glutted hysteria these guys offer up as expressive breaks in their lumbering arrangements. I will dedicate some time listening to better music, thank you.

I very much doubt that more orchestration or operatic readings of already histrionic material would change my opinion of Metallica's directionless frenzy. What they do, though, is little more than a synchronized slamming of car doors, and beyond representing all the unspent adrenaline and immature anger that is the province of male brains that haven't reached full maturity, there is nothing beyond their volume and their alacrity. It's a good thing you like the Stooges , but really, they were way ahead of the curve. The Stooges, the MC5 and the Velvet Underground invented punk rock , and all things being equal, these bands are infinitely more interesting than the dunderhead pud-pounding of Metallica and the subculture they claim to represent.

The fact remains, the Stooges and the MC5 (along with the Velvet Underground) created the punk rock aesthetic and formed the first genuinely alternative rock to what the record companies were marketing . Even in an era, the Sixties, whose survivors pride themselves on their musical inclusiveness, the above three bands were the ones you didn’t invite your party; they were anti-consensus, anti-good time, and performed a music that stripped itself of any attempts to be “poetic” or socially redeeming . Instead, their vocabularies were stripped to the bone, expressing the untreatable pain that stabbed you in the heart as the world contradicted itself . Stooges, MC5, Velvets, all were bands that had nothing invested in affirming an audience’s idea of itself. Their fatalism was natural, not acquired, and this is the reason, I think their respective albums still sound fresh and bracing some forty years later. Defenders of Metallica, sure enough, will attack the lack of professional musicianship on the part of the three bands, and emphasize Metallica’s technical prowess on their instruments. This misses the point, and I suspect these guys would make ideal Olympic Event Judges, where speed , accuracy and agility are everything. This isn’t the case with rock and roll.

If you're going to insist that technical expertise makes for better rock and roll, you've got a severely limited idea of what rock and roll should be. It's a primitive music in essence, and I think it more intriguing and worth dwelling on Iggy's idea of sub-literate anger and joy to be more visceral and convincing than the muscle-car slamming of Metallica's impotent, aged, dented hide. Really, Metallica is Arena Rock, as corporate as Journey ever was. They really and truly suck the Big One, long deep and hard.