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exit Cliff: enter Sandman
on 21 July 2006
depending on how far you'd come with the band by the time they released this commercial high point, this is either a sad denouement to the exhilarating first trio of albums and the patchy AJFA, or it's the reason you got into the band in the first place, and therefore beyond reasonable criticism.
let's face it, for all the familiarity the rock world now has with Jimbo, Lars and the Hamster, Metallica's soul was probably best embodied in Cliff Burton, the ill-fated bassist who seemingly underpinned the consecutive improvement of the first three albums.
having seen Metallica in all their glory on the Puppets tour only days before his sad demise, it was clear that Cliff was the "luke-warm water" (ref: another iconic rock bassist, Derek Smalls) element in the band, in-so-much-as he seemed to add some much needed feel into the band's otherwise technical sound.
while by no means a poor album, this is where I personally jumped off the Metallica bandwagon. the previous album, AJFA, seemed ponderous, felt like off-cuts from the Puppets album, and generally disappointed. change seemed inevitable, and the selection of Bob Rock as producer for the next album should have served as ample notice that things were gonna be different from here on in.
"Metallica" was released while I was visiting L.A. as part of a 4 month trip round the States, and it was a BIG DEAL. lots of brouhaha, heavy rotation on MTV, the usual marketing machinations swinging into gear for a band that had openly scorned such tactics only a few years earlier. it's easy to say "sell out" when a cherished band goes over-ground, but I for one definitely smelled a rat....
musically, it just didn't have the bite of RTL or MOP. the production sheen actually seemed to detract from a sound that seemed more suited to sparser surroundings. lead single 'Enter Sandman' had a decent hook and chorus, but otherwise there was nothing that stuck in my mind.
maybe it was a natural progression to move on from a band, and a scene, that I first embraced aged 15 in 1984. but for me this album represents a parting of ways in more ways than one.
if I had to give any advice when listening to ANY artist's back catalogue, it would be this: start at the beginning.