Metallica Finally Gives In to the iTunes Empire


Leave me be.

Maybe the most telling moment in the unwatchably long puff-piece rock-doc Some Kind of Monster was when James Hetfield, onstage at San Quentin Prison to film the video for “St. Anger,” told the assembled prisoners that the song was about all the personal issues he’d been going through, like these inmates were really supposed to give a good fuck about a millionaire rock star’s feelings. The only way the whole scene could’ve been more appropriate would’ve been if all these guys had been sent to prison for illegally downloading music, which presumably would’ve been just fine with Lars Ulrich. Ever since they started sucking at least a decade ago, Metallica has become the most culturally tone-deaf band in rock. Chuck Eddy pointed out here that Ulrich’s anti-Napster crusade made Metallica “the most hated band by their own fans in rock history,” and they didn’t do a whole lot to dispel the impression that that hate was reciprocated. That the band managed to follow this disastrous PR bungle up with recording an unlistenably awful album and then making a movie about the making of this unlistenably awful album feels perversely appropriate. And St. Anger is a baffling piece of work, even removed from the context of 2003, when rap-metal was finally beginning to disappear off the face of the earth and retro-formalist crunch-rockers like Queens of the Stone Age were releasing their best work and actually selling records doing it. In light of all this, Metallica drafted a rap-metal bassist and recorded an album with gut-churningly horrible production, industrial drums that feel like sandpaper on your brain, and not one single guitar solo. The band’s decision to part ways with St. Anger producer Bob Rock and hire Rick Rubin to helm the next album may be the first smart thing they’ve done in years.

And yesterday, they made another smart decision, though maybe the word we’re really looking for is pathetic. The band’s material will finally be available on iTunes, and they’re not even doing the thing where you have to buy the whole album to get certain songs. They’re going all out with it, too; the band’s first four albums (the good ones) all come with iTunes-only bonus live songs, though you actually do have to buy the albums to get them. It’s a startling move for the band, an end to their long vendetta against all things internet-related, a final embrace of the one money-making opportunity of which they weren’t taking advantage. In the statement on MTV News, the band insists that they’re “continuing the tradition of offering our albums for sale online (which we’ve been doing for a few years through various sites), as well as making our concerts available for download in their entirety (through the site).”

Unless they’re talking about Amazon or whatever, I haven’t heard about any sites selling the band’s music online, and I don’t know who’d want to buy every live Metallica performance in the first place anyway. Also, just totally froze my computer. Those two disclaimers are there specifically to make everyone forget that Ulrich did everything in his power to completely destroy Napster. So the iTunes thing does mark a change of position for the band, though it’s hard to see why they ever had a problem with a site like iTunes, which has long been pretty much the only game in town for legal downloads and which is rapidly becoming the only place a whole lot of people go to buy music. Still, this announcement works both as a victory and a defeat for the band, who will now be making a whole lot of money off this shit and whose catalogue sales are going to go through the roof this week but whose weird-ass core principles have undoubtedly been compromised. Maybe Kirk won an argument for once. Anyway, this is good news for all of us who only own Master of Puppets on vinyl or cassette. If we can convince ourselves that it’s OK to give these guys more money, we can now have it on our iPods for $9.90, and I think I can force myself to take that leap.

In related news, Reign in Blood has been on iTunes forever, and no one’s ever made a big deal of it.

Voice review: Chuck Eddy on Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Voice review: Joe Gross on Metallica’s St. Anger
Voice review: Gina Arnold on Metallica’s Re-Load

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