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album review
Metallica - Reload (1997)

As it's a product of the same sessions that yielded Load, Reload is afflicted with many of the defects that marred its predecessor, sharing not only that's album's erratic character, but also its similarly bloated nature, an album mired in an over-inflated track listing with all too many songs vastly overstaying their welcome.

Like Load, Reload has a runtime exceeding 60 minutes, and once more that proves to be highly deleterious to the overall quality of the album. The result is that the ratio between strong material and filler is far too close for comfort, a problem that could've been easily averted had the band simply released only the best tracks from the Load sessions as opposed to inflicting the full two and a half hours of studio toil on poor unsuspecting listeners.

Fortunately, in addition to containing a comparable amount of strong content as its predecessor, Reload has an asset that the band's previous album lacked - while Load saw a healthy dose of variety, invariably the tracks came off as standard Metallica numbers mildly altered so that they could profess to be something beyond the band's normal scope. That's not the case on Reload, where a large portion of the album sounds like something genuinely different from the band's standard modus operandi.

That becomes increasingly clear as the album progresses, culminating in "Low Man's Lyric", a strangely uplifting ballad employing such diverse instrumentation as the usual electric treatment married to violin passages and a hurdy-gurdy. The song sounds little like a Metallica track, injecting a welcome shot of eclecticism into proceedings.

That isn't to say that all the more unorthodox tracks work - many merit a description of filler as much as any generic / nondescript Heavy Metal number, and ultimately there's little correlation between the band's more adventurous approaches and good music. But that doesn't reduce the impact of the more variegated numbers, as unconventional filler is far more palatable than average filler, making the album - if not better than its predecessor - at least more sonically intriguing.

More interesting filler is hardly the extent of the album's virtues however, as there are indeed a number of very strong tracks. The obvious choice for best song goes to the hit opener "Fuel", a stellar riff rocker with catchy vocal hooks and a tremendous drive. There are plenty more obscure quality tracks as well, such as "Devil's Dance" and "Prince Charming" - they may not rank amongst the band's best work, but they're still eminently enjoyable numbers worthy of the Metallica name.

Predictably enough, there is an abundance of filler. As previously stated, some of that filler is comparatively interesting, but such is not always the case, resulting in numerous instances of typically derivative and bland Heavy Metal, the likes of which dominated Reload's predecessor.

So Reload, like Load, is a flawed but enjoyable product, a mixture of prime Metallica material and the inevitable helping of filler. Although the band's penchant for excess demanded that two separate albums be made, that doesn't completely sabotage the output from the Load sessions. They may not constitute the epic artistic statement that the band were trying for, but they're still a pair of pretty good records, and that's enough to ensure that the band's efforts were not wholly in vain.

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Posted: Monday 18th Mar 2019 12:29 PM

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album review
Few alternative rock bands can translate their underground renown into commercial success, and fewer still who can crossover into mainstream popularity without even making a name for themselves as an edgy up-and-coming commodity, or cultivating a modest cult following on the live club circuit.

Nevertheless, Coldplay achieved that feat, as their debut propelled them to the commercial zenith of the alternative rock pantheon. Much of that can be attributed to the tremendous success of the single "Yellow" which - in the tradition of Radiohead's "Creep" - acted as the band's ticket to mainstream awareness.

The Radiohead comparisons don't stop there however. Coldplay have been compared to Yorke and company since their very inception, as their brand of melancholic beauty resembles the gorgeous despair of tracks like "Fake Plastic Trees" and "How to Disappear Completely". On a qualitative level Coldplay are a far cry from Radiohead, but they're also one of the few bands hyped as the successors to Radiohead's throne at the pinnacle of the alternative rock genre, who are actually gifted enough to at least partially merit the accolade.

Coldplay's style is highly emotional, deeply moving in an organic fashion that few bands achieve. This reliance on tugging on the listener's heart-strings doesn't however prevent the band from conjuring up complex musical structures and ambitious soundscapes, as there's an overarching intelligence to the their work that, rather than obstruct its emotional impact, actually reinforces it.

Unfortunately, that intelligence doesn't extend to the band's lyrics, which tend to be familiar, prosaic, and pedestrian, sometimes even entering outright awkward and cringe-worthy embarrassing territory. That isn't a great liability though, as Coldplay are far more about music than lyrics, and thus the simplicity of Martin's poetry serves as little more than a vessel for his emotional delivery and penetrating vocal melodies.

Given its status as the band's full-length debut, it's unsurprising that Parachutes is afflicted with at least a modicum of filler, but the stronger material more than compensates for that. "Don't Panic" is a work of aching beauty and haunting resonance, and no matter how inane the frequent assertions that 'we live in a beautiful world' are on an intellectual level, it doesn't dilute the rich emotional potency Martin invests in the delivery of his words.

"Shiver"s manic instrumentation after the line don't shiver is unforgettable, while "Spies" is a harrowing and ominous paranoid anthem much in the vein of The Doors' similarly titled and similarly menacing opus, complete with a gorgeous yet terrifying coda that lasts precisely the right amount of time for maximum effect.

"Sparks" is the first unremarkable track, but it's still far from bad, while "Yellow" is almost universally known thanks to its ubiquity at the time of its release, emanating from every radio, mp3 player, and discman within earshot the moment it charted.

Fortunately, "Yellow" was eminently worthy of such a warm reception, as it's a truly unique song that marries catchy pop to the unorthodox approach that characterizes the best work culled from alternative rock, making for a stunning final product. From its colorful riff to its irresistible vocal melodies to its genial feel, the song achieves beauty in a manner quite unlike most archetypically pretty anthems, and is all the more rewarding for that.

The second half of the CD doesn't quite measure up to the preceding material, which largely accounts for the accusations of it being erratic. "Trouble" and "High Speed" are still quite strong though, if not as breathtaking as the likes of "Don't Panic" and "Spies", although the title track is rather underwhelming (not that it aspires to much).

"We Never Change" and "Everything's Not Lost" suffer not only from blandness but also from their position in the track sequence, but as the album sustains a strong level of emotion throughout, the listener is bound to be emotionally exhausted by the final tracks, thus it would take something spectacular to truly register with an audience on a deeper level. So those two tracks - whilst pretty - essentially feel like more of the same, and rather inferior at that. After the natural emotion that pours from almost every note on the album, they feel forced and calculated in their attempts at emotional resonance, rather than the cathartic climax they were clearly envisioned to be.

Nevertheless, Parachutes is a very strong product and a highly auspicious debut. The band's vision is one of haunting textures and devastating beauty, a vision that's clearly and adroitly realized throughout most of the album. While undoubtedly influenced by Radiohead, the band establish their own unique identity throughout their work, immediately emerging as one of the premier ensembles in alternative rock.

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Posted: Friday 9th Mar 2018 5:26 PM

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