[Album Review] "St Anger" – Metallica

St Anger - MetallicaAlbum Title: St Anger
Artist: Metallica
Year: 2003
Running Time: 75m 6s

Track listing: 1 Frantic; 2 St Anger; 3 Some Kind of Monster; 4 Dirty Window; 5 Invisible Kid; 6 My World; 7 Shoot Me Again; 8 Sweet Amber; 9 The Unnamed Feeling; 10 Purify; 11 All Within My Hands

I never really look forward to much in life because I’d rather be pleasantly surprised that feel let down. I’ve certainly learnt not to look forward to Metallica albums too much over the last few years. Following on from the hit-and-miss “Load” in 1996, the practically all-filler “Reload” in 1997 and the forgettable “Garage Inc” in 1998, I only mildly anticipated 2003’s “St Anger”.

Since their last release (1999’s collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), a lot has happened for the band. Apart from their well documented legal attack on file-sharing company Napster, they lost bassist Jason Newsted to “private and personal reasons” and lead singer James Hetfield temporarily to rehab. Well Hetfield is back, sober and angry; and Newsted has been replaced by Robert Trujllo (formerly of Suicidial Tendencies and Ozzy Osbourne’s band).

So with all the ingredients in place, the band’s eighth album (of original material) in their 20-year career finally hit the streets. “St Anger” is a promise of a return to full-on metal that they patented in the mid-eighties with classic albums like “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets”. Does it deliver?

I’ve spent weeks wondering the best way of reviewing this album. It’s hard to know where to start. There are so many flaws and problems with it that it’s easy to forget some of them – I must gather my thoughts before I continue.

The bottom line is that the songs are just not very good at all. The high spots are very few and far between – and they are not even that high. Lead single and title track, ‘St Anger’, is a decent numiber. Throbbing rhythm, breakneck speed, slowed-down verses and then a nu-metal bridge that actually sounds pretty good. Lyrically it’s rather daft, and vocally Hetfield is exposed as not being able to even hold his own limited range, but its’ catchy and reminiscent enough of the good old days to keep your interest.

Album opener ‘Frantic’ is also pretty frenetic but suffers from repetitive and tired “rhyming” lyrics: ‘If I could have my wasted days back/would I use them to get back on track’ and ‘My lifestyle determines my deathstyle’. As for the chorus: ‘Frantic tick tick tick tick tick tock’. Good lord. ‘Some Kind of Monster’ is a reasonable, heavy, muddy number with a distorted rhythm guitar although again the lyrics are just downright appalling – ‘These are the eyes that can’t see me/These are the hands that drop your trust/These are the boots that kick you around/This is the tongue that speaks on ths inside’ – somehow these jaded metal lyrics sounded fine in 1988, but old-hat in 2003.

There’s little else to get excited about. ‘Shoot Me Again’ shows some musical promise with it’s decent stop-start hook before falling apart at the pre-chorus repeat of ‘shoot me again/shoot me again…etc (repeat ad nauseam)’ and ‘Purify’ is another nod to nu-metal and sounds dirty and f*cked up enough to work.

Another problem – the tracks all go on way too long. The shortest song on the album is the notch-over-five minutes of ‘Purify’, but most of the tracks weigh in at seven minutes-plus. This worked well on “Master of Puppets” but the tracks here are not strong enough to carry it off.

Production. Well I wonder if it was produced at all. Bob Rock, who oversaw Metallica’s work through the 90s, has tried to re-create the garage sound of the early 80s on “St Anger”. The problem is that it is phenomenally inappropriate for an arena-metal band (which is what Metallica are, like it or not) to create music that sounds like this. The mix is totally off-kilter. James off-key vocals should really be hidden more while Lars drums are far too prominent as well.

Speaking of drums – did someone replace Lars’ drumsticks with two large unweildy wet fish? Lars has never been regarded as the most talented drummer in metal, but there is just something seriously wrong with the whole sound. Thump-thump-thump….he sounds like a limited session musician trying out for a local garage band in New Jersey.

And where are the solos? Kirk Hammett is a fine guitarist but here he seems to just play the same notes as Hetfield for the entire album. There are NO solos. Considering that the songs weigh in at nearly six-and-a-half minutes each on average, most of them had room for a Kirk solo instead of a dull, repeated vocal or rhythm line that is the norm on “St Anger”.

To be fair to “St Anger”, some of it does become listenable to after a week or so. But it still can’t be considered a strong album by any means. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s a toss up between this and “Reload” for the accolade of “Metallica’s worst album”.

The direction that they went on “Metallica” and “Load” wasn’t ideal, but at least the music was well-written and performed. There’s nothing wrong with strong production values, as one can witness when they hear an album without these values. There are elements that are reminiscent of old Metallica for sure on “St Anger”, but all they do is re-inforce the mediocrity of the other sixty-five minutes.

If you really must buy “St Anger”, at least try and get it cheap online or at ebay. I have a feeling that there will be quite a few second hand copies floating around very soon.



[Album Review] "Slang" – Def Leppard

Slang - Def LeppardAlbum Title: Slang
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 1996
Running Time: 46m

Track listing: 1 Truth; 2 Turn to Dust; 3 Slang; 4 All I Want is Everything; 5 Work it Out; 6 Breathe a Sigh; 7 Deliver Me; 8 Gift of Flesh; 9 Blood Runs Cold; 10 Where Does Love Go When it Dies; 11 Pearl of Euphoria

A greatest hits collection in 1995 (“Vault”) helped Def Leppard buy more time before releasing their slightly less-anticipated seventh studio album. The onslaught of grunge music had seen stadium rock acts such as Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Motley Crue lose a lot of their popularity. Althuogh hit singles were still being attained, many of them were ballads – always the easy option for a band struggling to convince a sceptical public.

So it was all change for 1996’s “Slang”. On production duties this time was Pete Woodroffe rather than career-producer, Mutt Lange. Joe had straightened his infamous poodle-perm and, most intriguingly, the band moved on musically from the metal-lite formula that had defined their career thus far. “Slang” was a heavier, darker, industrial-tinged collection of tunes, interspersed with ‘safety’ music that would assure a certain amount of radio airplay.

Those safety tunes are a good place to start. The title track was a raunchy rap-rock number that was every bit as catchy as ‘Lets Get Rocked’ or ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’. ‘Slang with me – I don’t wanna get my hands dirty/slang with me – I just wanna get soakin’ wet’ croaks Elliot in the way that only veteran rockers can. The intermittent guitar and unusual percussion lends to a sound that’s different enough to be interesting, but still recognisably Def Leppard at the end of the day.

‘All I Want is Everything’ is an outstanding ballad, Elliot pulling off a quality vocal when singing ‘And if you could see what’s going on/behind these private eyes/the truth would look so easy now/but I’m running out of lies’ and Phil Collen’s beautifully restrained solo breathing more emotion into a song that’s already full of it. ‘Breathe a Sigh’ and ‘Blood Runs Cold’ are quality slow-tempo numbers that are well written and performed, but ‘Where Does Love Go When It Dies?’ is just a track too far. It pales to the other ballads, and frankly, after three of them, do we need this one?

But it’s the new sound that really turns heads here. ‘Truth’ opens the album with it’s leery guitars and thumping drum-n-bass. The lyrics are also more intriguing – ‘i’ve been burning/and dousing the flames/i feel the whiplash/of the backlash of my face – ‘am i the victim of youth/is this the truth/why don’t you tell me’. Joe could have almost been singing about his band’s dying popularity. ‘Turn to Dust’ is not quite as good with its eastern-metal influences, but the chorus is enjoyable and again the lyrical content is more edgy than before – ‘sentence, rape me/segregate me/I got the fear that I am gone – turn to dust’.

‘Work it Out’ is Vivian Campbell’s masterpiece, a mid-tempo rocker compelete with a smoky Elliot vocal, catchy lyrics, a wonderful stuttering guitar sound, superb bridge-cum-chorus and terrific mid-section. It was eventually released as a single and registerd as a minor UK hit. The only disappointment with ‘Deliver Me’ is that it isn’t heavier than it is. The lyrics are like something pulled from a best-selling horror novel – ‘and I’m tied to the sky/as you claw at my eyes/and I wait for the flood/I swim in blood/as I crawl to my knees/and I beg your disease’ – not very Def Leppard at all. Great tune though, and followed impressively by the brilliant and even heavier ‘Gift of Flesh’, a modern day return to their early days.

The album closer ‘Pearl of Euphoria’ follows the lyrical and musical trend of the above tracks. After listening to ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ (mow the lawn – who me?/walk the dog – not my style man!’, imagine listening to a number that proclaims to ‘Feed the demon, kiss the flame, feel your desire;temptation, break the vow/cut flesh from the sacred cow’. Another winner.

I keep harping back to the new sound and the more mature and insightful lyrics, but it can’t be highlighted enough just how good this record is. The band should be given immense credit for trying something new, and even if the sales figures didn’t reflect it, achieving something to be very proud of.


[Movie Review] Changing Lanes

Changing LanesStarring: Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, William Hurt, Kim Staunton, Sydney Pollack
Director: Roger Michell
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2002

Gavin Banek (Affleck – “Daredevil”, “The Sum Of All Fears”, “Pearl Harbour”) and Doyle Gipson (Jackson – “Star Wars: Episode II”, “XXX”, “Shaft”, “Unbreakable”) could not have asked for a worse time to have a bad day.

High-flying lawyer Banek is on his way to court to fight a suit on behalf of his employers. Recovering alcoholic Gipson is on his way to court to demonstrate that he can provide a home for his estranged wife and children. Both men lead very different and separate lives, but these lives are about to clash in dramatic fashion.

When they are involved in a minor car accident with each other, Doyle insists on exchanging insurance information but Gavin is in a hurry and dismisses Doyle’s concerns, giving him a blank cheque instead. As he flees the scene of the accident Gavin leaves behind important papers that are material to his court case. Doyle, as a result of the accident and Gavin’s refusal to give him a lift into the city, ends up turning late for his court appearance, and subsequently loses his case.

With both men’s lives on the brink, they become bent on revenge and within their relative means, do their best to bring the other one down.

“Changing Lanes” is really a story about two inherently good men who “turn” in their desperation to get payback on each other. Banek might have the looks, the moves, the money and the education to achieve anything he wants, but deep down you sense he’s unhappy – unhappy in his job and unhappy with his family relationships.

Gipson has never had any of those things. He’s attending AA, his wife has left him and his job as an insurance sales representative is hardly the stuff of dreams. But his recovery over the last few years, with the help of his sponsor (Hurt – “Lost in Space”, “Dark City”, “Michael”, “Smoke”), has been inspirational to him, and his enthusiasm for making a success of his life is evident.

This battle of wits, spiraling out of control at times, is the main focus of “Changing Lanes”. There is a small sub-plot involving Gavin’s affair with colleague, Michelle (Collette – “About a Boy”, “The Sixth Sense”, “Strictly Ballroom”, “Shaft”), but it merely serves to portray the dissatisfaction that he is experiencing in his marriage.

If I had to be critical about the movie, I’d identify the main problem being that there is just too much going on. Gavin has until the end of the day to retrieve his file and present it to the court, therefore the action all happens in one afternoon – you wonder how director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”, “Persuasion”) manages to fit it all in. There is enough time for “tooing-and-froing” between different offices and court rooms, lunch dates, an evacuation, a drink in a bar, several visits to a bank, car accidents… there’s not much that doesn’t happen.

I’d also question just how realistic the character’s behaviour is. Do normal people, even in their presently extraordinary situations, really behave in this way? Would a working-class, recovering alcoholic find the wherewithal to do things like sending threatening faxes to a top law firm, destroying public property, or savagely attacking two guys he’d had an argument with? Would a previously clean, respected, up-and-coming lawyer break the law with frightening regularity?

But I’d be quite lenient about any criticism. Because behind these minor problems lies a psychological thriller that’s carried by an urgent script, quality performances (Affleck shining for, in my opinion, the first time ever) and a gripping storyline.

The strength of the movie is in its (flawed) characters. While Banek’s initial arrogance is a turn-off, he soon earns, perhaps, a little sympathy. Gipson is quite easy to sympathise (indeed maybe empathise with) but when you see his seedier side, you take a step back. But the greyness of the characters is what helps keep your attention.

The support cast prove themselves to be more than able cushions for the main protagonists. Gavin’s father-in-law, and boss, the fairly hideous Stephen Delano (Pollack – “A Civil Action”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Tootsie”, “Husbands and Wives”), justifies his corrupted profession by saying “at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got to judge by?’.

Kim Staunton (“Dragonfly”, “Holy Man”, “Heat”, “Deceived”) is outstanding as Valerie Gipson, the forgiving but jaded wife of Doyle, and within their small roles, Toni Collette and Amanda Peet (as Gavin’s pampered wife, Cynthia), perform admirably.

“Changing Lanes” isn’t hugely likely to be ever based on a true story, but it’s enjoyable nonsense at its best.