BLOG: Can Metallica pull a Radiohead?

Will you love us for free?
Will you love us for free?

"It's about control. It's about controlling what you own." - Lars Ulrich, 2000

"This is our last record under contract with Warner, so we're looking at how we can embrace everything." - Lars Ulrich, 2008

"He who walks behind others will never advance" - Michelangelo, date unknown

It's a bad, bad sign when an artist begins to think of himself as a myth-maker, and this limp myth that justifies slaughter and ends with resurrection has been around before. And so Lars Ulrich's recent comments that Metallica might, with their next release, somehow embrace the free or pay-what-you-want Internet distribution paradigm set forth by the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead can only be greeted with a fair amount of cynicism and skepticism.

How is it that a band that at one time tried to disguise themselves as little Davids (albeit deep-pocketed ones) up against the big bad Goliaths of Internet service providers (and its users) but were perceived to be nothing more than multi-millionaires out for as big a piece of the pie as they could slice it could now attempt to cloak themselves as defenders of the free? Quite simply, they can't. The veil has been lifted, and in the eyes of millions of fans, the damage has been done - irrevocably, it would seem. Already, the news that the band might be embracing the Internet has been greeted with raspberries. On the music industry forum The Velvet Rope, a recent thread bore the title "Metallica May Give Away Their Next CD," to which one person responded, "They may have to," while another wrote, "But I don't want the new CD. Can't they give me my money back for the ones I already bought?"

It would appear that the goodwill extended to acts like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, both of whom distributed recent releases for free or user-discretion price, and to Coldplay, a band that is giving away their new single during a one-week window (and playing free shows to boot), is now out of reach for Metallica. How could a one-time "people's band," one that used to burn up the ground behind them, now be viewed as so hopelessly out of touch with their fans?

Part of the problem lies in the band's enormous stardom. When a band has been famous for a long time, we known too much about them; for years we have been hearing about their triumphs and tragedies, or whatever the case may be, and all this carries over into their music. And if they use this in their music or in the way they bring their music to the public, they're sunk. In the case of Metallica, early flag-wavers against Napster and other download sites, their music is now inseparable from their public battles. By appearing to do a 180 of sorts, Metallica might wish to seem like they're giving the public what it wants, but they're doing something worse than that. They're capitulating in a way that is self-exploitive. By laying down their arms ("Look at us! We're not the bad guys anymore!"), they might hope to win public sympathy, but what they don't realize is that the public has a long memory - especially when the Internet can serve as a reminder.

Back in the day, Metallica rose to fame by being a band of the people, but they did so by sticking to their guns and refusing to cede to accepted norms of the music business. Songs were six, seven minutes in length. Radio won't play us? Screw it. We have to release singles? Screw that, we make albums. By bending to the new rules of the Internet, Metallica now finds itself in a cul-de-sac of their own making.

Of course, a great album, one that can bring us out of our dull funk and make us believe in the possibilities again, is the only thing that can make the public forget - and forgive. And for millions of disenfranchised fans, greatness can't come soon enough.

By Joe Bosso


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