Metallica, “Hardwired ... To Self-Destruct” (Blackened)
Metallica’s first studio album in eight years is joyless, anxious and grim, which means it’s both a typical Metallica album and an accurate reading of the national mood. Many artists roar out of hiatus with something shiny and grand, but there’s nothing novel about “Hardwired.” It’s a solid collection of mostly uncomplicated songs — a short double album that could easily have been a single album.
Metallica fans are prone to factionalism: Most favor the band’s early, underground, thrash-happy years. Others prefer the band’s post-mainstream-crossover period. “Hardwired” works hard to please both constituencies, continuing a legacy reclamation process begun on 2008’s “Death Magnetic,” produced by rock-star whisperer Rick Rubin. To enlist Rubin is a public admission that you need help returning to your better self. For Metallica, this means reemphasizing its unmatched technical skills and its capacity for brute force.
Metallica doesn’t have to travel far to get back home. They’ve conceded nothing to middle age except the outer edges of singer James Hetfield’s register. Its core sound, a familiar fusillade of melodic metal and volcanic riffage served on a bed of punk and blues, has also aged well. Just about anything on “Hardwired” would have sounded contemporary five years ago, and will five years from now, with the exception of “Murder One,” a surprisingly gentle eulogy for Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, and “Moth Into Flame,” a tour-de-thrash of harmonies and anthemic choruses and righteous indignation that Hetfield has said was inspired by Amy Winehouse.
The album ends with the mighty, monumental “Spit Out the Bone,” which ponders man’s eventual enslavement by machines, something only metal bands and Michael Bay seem to take seriously. Blistering and complex, it’s the fullest example of what Metallica may still become, and not just what they’ve lost.
ALLISON STEWART, Washington Post
Miranda Lambert, “The Weight of These Wings” (RCA Nashville)
Yes, this is Lambert’s first album since divorcing Blake Shelton. And yes, it is filled with songs about romantic skepticism and how the first steps you take after an old love breaks are tentative and fragile. Yet this double album isn’t so much about Lambert’s relationship to Shelton as it is about hers to the Nashville mainstream.
For the most part, these songs were recorded live to tape, leaving a texture of rustle and warm air. Lambert wants to communicate that, through all of her struggles, she is working, right down to the flubbed intro to the crunchy, almost rowdy “Bad Boy.” “Wings” is modestly scaled — something Lambert never has been, and isn’t always well suited to. Partly that’s because her piercing voice breaks in just the right places when her mood grows downcast, and explodes into colorful curlicues when she’s enthused, or peeved. That rarely happens here, though there is a vicious kiss-off, “To Learn Her,” and a quick, zany turn on the album’s first half with “We Should Be Friends” and “Pink Sunglasses,” lightly comic feminism for the parts of the country where the local five-and-dime is a Walmart.
But when this album whispers, as it does on large swaths of the second half, it neuters Lambert’s gifts. This album doesn’t serve as a retort to its surroundings, and retort is what Lambert does best. What’s clear is that Lambert is in retreat. Maybe the loudest person in the room could do with a little quiet.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
• Garth Brooks, “Gunslinger”
• The Weeknd, “Starboy”