Thanks to Nirvana’s Nevermind, for many fans, 1991 was the year punk broke. For others, its was the year of R.E.M.s pastoral smash Out of Time, U2’s technophilic, one-third-life crisis epic Achtung Baby or
all 152 minutes of Guns ‘n’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and II
But for many more rock (and pop) fans, 1991 was the year everyone, owned or was exposed to, Metallica’s Black Album. Thanks to slicker production and tighter songcraft, hits such as “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters” pulled Metallica’s thrash into a mainstream that was just getting over Vanilla Ice.
Now, for the album’s 30th birthday, 53 artists have their way with one of 12 songs on The Metallica Blacklist, a tribute collection to this profoundly ubiquitous record. (The release coincides with a huge new deluxe remastering of the album).
This many artists covering so few songs means a few acts take a bite at several songs. Cherry Glazzer covers “My Friend of Misery” as stiffish New Wave guitar rock while Kamasi Washington turns it into shockingly great electric fusion with singer Patrice Quinn reworking James Hetfield’s lyrics into something for the Village Vanguard. Weezer doing “Enter Sandman” sounds, well, exactly like Weezer covering “Enter Sandman” (Then again, nobody, including Ghost, Juanes and Mac DeMarco, go very afield with that one.) Jason Isbell and the
400 Unit turn “Sad But True” into a roots rave-up while St. Vincent creates hazy electro-rock weirdness with it.
There are no fewer than 11(!) version of “Nothing Else Matters,” — guess we know which one showed up on a lot of mixtapes during the Clinton administration. Phoebe Bridgers (piano and strings), Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan (maximum lounge crooner), My Morning Jacket (couldn’t sound more MMJ), Darius Rucker (frat dude country in full Nashvegas mode) and, hello, Swedish pop pioneers Roxette (do the rest, please) are just some of the folks who take a swing. Current covers queen Miley Cyrus assembles an all-star cast for her version,
including Eton John, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and current Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, her voice at the perfect grit for the iconic ballad.
Like most tribute albums, it’s a study in the art of rearrangement, in how an artist can rethink (or overthink) a song from the ground up without sacrificing something essential about the original recording. The Metallica Blacklist’is also a tribute to a musical moment when that which was once considered alternative was apparently everywhere all along, a moment for pop music that felt revolutionary that fans and bands would be thinking about 30 years on.