I thought my time in college radio was the heyday of cool bands convening on album to roar through cover versions other acts’ song. For a stretch the early nineteen-nineties, it seemed like barely a week went by without another tribute album landing in our college radio station’s heavy rotation. Our programming decision makers wanted to nothing to do with Garth Brooks, then ruling over the music business, but if he was covering a Kiss “classic” on a gimmicky comp, well then, sure, that was fair game. It got out of hand is what I’m typing here.
The discombobulation of the music industry, marked by an ongoing rewrite of every previous rule about release schedules and delivery mechanisms, is creating new boom years for artists on the fringes of fame taking passes at songs that already exist at some level of notoriety, all the better to break through the stratified din. The structures of digital distribution at least allow for extra creativity. Hey, if Metallica wants to organize a tribute to their own work, they can. And why not commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the band’s monstrously successful self-titled album by asking over fifty artists to offer their interpretations and dribble some of them out in advance of a massive track dump in September. You want seven different takes of the grinding metal ballad “The Unforgiven” by current acts? Well, they’re coming!
I have to admit that the excessiveness of the endeavor is part of the appeal. I admire the shrewd understanding that practically no one is going to listen to this tribute album, dubbed The Metallica Blacklist, from start to finish, even after it’s released on CD and record a month after its streaming and download debut. Everyone’s going to pick and choose the handful of tracks that are irresistible to them, plop them onto playlists, and circle around to them from time to time. Me, I think I’ve already established that I’m not likely to turn away from dynamic duo Diet Cig doing their thing. I’m not clamoring for those seven versions of the “The Unforgiven,” but I do need this one.