So, what we have here is essentially the second half of Load. The boys even called upon Andres Serrano once more for the cover, and he supplied "Piss and Blood" to over four million customers in the U.S. alone.
Hardcore metalheads were undaunted in their continued dismissal of modern Metallica, and there was even some indulgence in revisionist history: "Metallica were NEVER as great as everybody said. Slayer/Megadeth/Exodus were better. Master of Puppets is overrated." It reeked of a break-up wrought with denial.
No amount of Load-ing can ever tarnish Metallica's 80s legacy. Even if at times it sounded like the fellas were up to the challenge.
"Motorbreath" for old dudes. Never fails to remind me of the time Hetfield took one wrong step onstage and ended up a crispy critter. So in addition to the need for speed, dude has a jones for flame.
Like all brats, "Fuel" needs a hearty smack upside the head before it sets anymore pets on fire. What is easily the most blistering musical track on Reload is out-out trashed by Hetfield's halitosis (although the JH Soundboard would not be the glorious beast it is without this song). That said, James the Very Loud and Rebellious Lion gives me the giggles each time I listen. I will take humor (intentional and unintentional) anywhere I can get it with 90s Metallica.
"The Memory Remains"--Two songs in, two songs where the chorus appears before the first verse. (Also, two meta-refs in this 'un; spot 'em.)
The lyrics are quite well-written, and so effectively encapsulate the fade of fame, that the rote bedrock is forgivable. The big deal with "Memory Remains," then as now, is the cameo by Marianne Faithfull, legendary vocalist/Rolling Stones muse/hardcore drug addict/candy bar aficionado. She brings a stirring Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? air to the plodding proceedings, chilling spines and raising hairs just by croaking out the syllables the "little tin goddess" uses solely to communicate in her twilight years. Both Marianne and Metallica deserve kudos for artistic bravery.
Those of you who remember when Reload was released may recall certain of the fanbase not cottoning to the presence of a female vocal on a Metallica track, prompting cries of "Who the fuck is this old bitch?" Which isn't an unfair question. Crude, yes, but hardly unfair.
It's no fatal flaw to not immediately know who Marianne Faithfull is, but it is a massive disservice to not do the minimum amount of research that would satisfy your curiosity. You may still cringe at her vocals no matter how venerated she is within the industry after five decades, but you would at least know that she is a figure deserving of massive respect, and not some crazy cat lady Kirk Hammett felt misguided sympathy for.
"Devil's Dance"--No one was surprised more than big young me to discover that a song titled "Devil's Dance" turned out interesting. In the way that White Castle burgers are interesting…but still.
The devil evoked herein sounds more in line with the 'Bub on the cover of Satan is Real than the li'l fella on the cover of Hell Without Hell, but honestly, what band can you envision performing in front of exploding rocks more vividly than Metallica?
"Take the chance/Let's dance." And make romance? No. This is strictly flesh-slap promenade. These faux-lascivious lyrics aren't as quease-inducing as you might fear from the pen of an admitted recovering sex addict, so take that, Mustaine.
"Unforgiven II"--Starts off like the original, then just drops to its knees and proceeds towards a simple man's decay. About as much need for this sequel as for a Patton Oswalt porno.
Clearly "Memory Remains" was a lyrical anomaly: "If you can understand the me, then I can understand the you"; "Lay beside me/This won't hurt, I swear." The protagonists beseeching for prostration is the epitome of creepy, and the fact I have had to listen to this song multiple times means none of my dreams will ever come true. So I basically am curled up in a ball in a corner of the bedroom, shivering, waiting for my heart to decide it's had enough already.
"Better Than You"--Things provably better than this song--
--A bowl of moldy tapioca pudding
--Deep-fried baby feet
--Getting your brain pierced by jaguar teeth
--Waiting for a Greyhound bus anywhere in North America
This track won a Grammy. Which is fitting, really. Considering that "buried alive" and "brained by a golden gramophone award" are the only two causes of death that aren't better than listening to "Better Than You."
"Slither"--Hetfield hates this one. He should. This sibilant mess is doubtless responsible for 34% of the inner turmoil that plagued him at the time. Puts me in mind of a Hognose fantasizing about being an Eastern Brown.
Don't shed your skin and try to sell it top dollar, dudes.
"Carpe Diem Baby"--I'm iffy on any song recorded after 1969 that dares cap its title with the word "baby." But when said honorific is preceded by a Latin phrase?
James Hetfield used to be the King of the Killer Riff. But on Reload, he's firmly entrenched as the Prince of the Tepid Riff. Make no mistake, his muse is comatose ("Suck the day"? Your translator sucks the day. All 24 hours, baby.) Is he weary, or just soft? Who can tell. It's worthy to note that Hetfield has the phrase tattooed on his left arm, a permanent reminder to never spend more time fapping than is absolutely necessary. (I'm sure no one is more thankful than James that he waited till he was a bit older to get ink; not hard to envision a baby-faced Hetfield stumbling drunk and belligerent into a tattoo parlor, demanding to get "Corripe Cervisiam" on his belly.)
"Bad Seed"--"Yeah/Ohhh yeah."
Akin to guzzling down a still-swirling mixture of anti-freeze and aspertif. I've been more titillated watching a potato sack race.
"Where the Wild Things Are"--My favorite chorus on the album…hell, it might be my favorite moment on the album, that hook is so embedded so deeply in my neck. Seven tasteful minutes, with treasures in the crevices. Literally to the Max.
"Prince Charming"--Son of King Nothing; apple don't fall too terribly far. James loves telling us what he is in relation to us. Here, he is a "dirty, dirty whore." Somewhere on this Earth live people who care what the songs on Reload are about and all I can say to that is "Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts."
Also bless you Kirk Hammett. Don't you ever stop being dandy, showing us your wah pedals. He has all the unconditional love for his Cry Baby that a giant panda mama does for its cubs.
"Low Man's Lyric"--OH NO. Within, is violin. Within, is hurdy gurdy. Within, is the Bon Jovi/Kid Rock collabo a good two years before the rock community at large was exposed to Bob Ritchie, back in the days when he was content to produce shitty underground hip hop.
"Attitude"--Yeah, the radar blipped and bleeped in bits here. Someone grab James a Snickers.
"Why cure the fever/Whatever happened to sweat?" That's the hook!
There is a well-settled-into groove to be found here, but it's real white, you know. Like extra-white.
"Fixxxer"--Given the intro piece, it's only fitting that the word "voodoo" appears in the first spoken line. There are some cool string conjurings happening but honestly, this is the last song, and I'm only so impressed by this point on any record. If Metallica are still capable of sustaining greatness over an eight minute stretch, they were keeping said skill well-hidden in the late 90s.
Reload suggested a band possibly beyond repair. Back-to-back bland offerings? Had excessive successes dulled the once-mighty Metallica for good, changing renegade innovators into static generators?
Of course these were/are subjective wonderings. Reload was indeed the end of an era. But in true bloated Metalli-fashion, it took four years for anyone to realize that.