Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When Good Bands Do Bad Things

I guess I am a musical optimist. I look for the upside in some of rock's most reviled albums. Still, among my own collection there are some "experiments" I cannot justify, some sins I cannot forgive - and this comes from someone who owns more than one version of Metal Machine Music.

Burning RedI started today working through Machine Head's discography. I'm excited for Unto the Locust and thought that, taken as a whole, their journey from there to here may make more sense as a musical arc. Until I got to The Burning Red. Essentially shelved since '99 it hasn't improved. It's gotten worse. A Korn facsimile five years after the trend had exploded, it fails on every level and nearly decimates the legitimacy of its predecessors in the process. Then enter the amazingly shittier Supercharger. Forget any "arc" - it's a fucking miracle these guys were able to right the ship and turn out Through the Ashes of Empires and The Blackening. 

ForbiddenMachine Head recovered and if "Locust" is any indication, they're still on the right path. Likewise, Black Sabbath hit an all-time low in '95 with Forbidden, sounding less like Sabbath than Body Count, especially sad considering Ice-T and Ernie C's involvement with the record. Forbidden essentially killed the brand. A couple killer Iommi solo projects and the late, great Ronnie James Dio by way of Heaven and Hell have completely revived Sabbath. I have high hopes that a Heaven & Hell variation of the Born Again line-up may be next and this may be the era of a Sabbath renaissance (even if by any other name).

Danzig 5 BlackacidevilDanzig 5: Blackacidevil is essentially the Nine Inch Nails version of The Burning Red. I continually try to redeem this one again and again and I just cannot. It's nowhere near Machine Head's colossal failure and I know Glenn knows his music and is deep, deep into the foremost fringes all the time. Still, this was such a departure and so uncharacteristic of the groove in which Danzig succeeds that, ultimately, it fails as a "Danzig" record. I would like to think that maybe it could have been a success under a totally different name but, realistically, by 1996 it was already a step behind the times.

Re-LoadLoad didn't offend me at all. I fully embraced Metallica's strides into mainstream acceptance and, for the most part, it rocked just fine. The sloppy seconds, Reload, on the other hand, is a mishmash of shit that would have been better saved as b-sides at best ('The Memory Remains" excepted, which would have been a nice one-off non-LP single). The whole thing feels like a cut-and-paste studio creation from bits and pieces and "The Unforgiven II" is so self-indulgent that I cannot help but feel like Metallica earned more than a bit of the scorn that has been heaped upon them over the past decade.

BalanceI'm a big defender of Sammy Hagar's work with Van Halen. It is with a heavy heart, then, that I approach Balance. Digesting Balance in 2011 framed against all of 1995, it kind of seems charming but at the time of its release, when rock music was falling apart and rebuilding itself, it just seemed stubborn and unrealistic. A parade of ballads, dumb rockers that are more dumb than rock and "Right Here, Right Now" rehash, Balance now feels like a collection of b-grade leftovers from the Van Hagar era. The only thing that would have been more of a letdown would have been some attempt to be timely by recruiting the vocalist from Extreme. Wait...

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