Even the tough guys in Metallica need a break from their rigorous schedule sometimes.
"You fall into so many traps as a popular band who loves what they do. You tour, record, play events, make speeches, and the next thing you know four years have passed you by," says drummer Lars Ulrich. "Metallica still needs to have fun. We made three pretty serious albums in a row, starting with the black album and then 'Load' and 'Re-Load.' It was time to do something different."
The change of pace comes in the form of "Garage Inc.," a two-CD set (or three vinyl LPs) of covers due worldwide Nov. 23-24 on Elektra Entertainment. The hits, previously recorded by the likes of Black Sabbath, Diamond Head, the Misfits, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Queen, Motorhead, and Nick Cave, include 11 newly recorded songs, numerous B-sides and one-offs, and the five songs that originally appeared on 1987's "Garage Days Re-Revisited" EP, which has been out of print since 1989.
"We are so careful and particular with our own material that recording an album is a long and exhausting process," Ulrich says. "It's definitely easier to work with other people's material. We like to turn them into something very Metallica, different than how the original artist did it. You don't get so fucking anal about it, and you can bang these covers out in like five minutes."
Ulrich acknowledges that die-hard fans are the likely market for a pet project like "Garage," but he says he's comfortable in taking the risk.
"Cover songs are a part of our history, and fans know that. We have just put them all in a nice little package for easy listening," Ulrich says. "We don't sit and analyze things on a sales level. Covers probably won't have the same commercial appeal as a 'Nothing Else Matters,' but there are people who'll get off on hearing what we do to a Thin Lizzy track."
John Maines, buyer for the six-store, Dayton, Ohio-based CD Connection, doesn't think there is reason to be concerned, even with the stiff competition of fourth-quarter heavy hitters. "This album will be big on name alone, although a new album probably would have done better," Maines says. "Sealing the deal is the inclusion of the EP material. We always have requests for that, and I've heard of people paying $30 or more to get a bootleg."
Despite the prevailing confidence of retailers, Elektra isn't going to just sit back and hope for the best. The band has a big reputation to live up to--including three No. 1 albums (which have sold a combined 17.5 million U.S. units, according to SoundScan), six singles in the top 40 of the Hot 100, and 15 songs on Mainstream Rock Tracks. The act was also voted Billboard's 1997 mainstream rock artist and 1997 top pop catalog artist.
"We are extremely excited to put out a new set by Metallica, as they are one of our biggest breadwinners, and we have every indication that fans are waiting for it," says Dana Brandwein, Elektra's senior director of marketing. "Our orders are strong, calls are pouring in, old stuff is still being played on the radio, and the Web sites are buzzing. But you can never be too sure, which is why we will do everything we can to make it known that it is available and to ensure high visibility from street date well into next year."
For retailers, this means "coming soon" streamers, bin cards, flats, posters, and other specialty items. Listening parties the weekend before street date in major cities and extensive TV, print, and radio advertising will help build demand.
Also available Nov. 24 is "Cunning Stunts," a $19.98 concert video shot during last year's tour. And just in time for the holidays on Dec. 8, Elektra will release a $34.99 DVD version of "Cunning Stunts," which features 140 minutes of concert footage utilizing multiple camera angle technology, interviews, and a photo gallery with 1,800 pictures. The project marks the label's first DVD-specific project.
Elektra hopes radio programmers will run with the first single, a gritty take on Bob Seger's "Turn The Page." It will be serviced to all rock formats on a date that the label is keeping a secret, and a video by Jonas Akerlund will follow.
"We like Metallica so much in these parts that we have a Tuesday and Thursday segment devoted to them," says Nancy Palumbo, music director at active rock WYSP Philadelphia. "We will definitely give the single, and probably several other tracks, lots of play. Our listeners will demand it. Bob Seger is an interesting choice. It will certainly perk up ears."
Ulrich says a lot of thought went into choosing which songs to cover; the finalists were jointly agreed upon by him, guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield, bassist Jason Newsted, and guitarist Kirk Hammett.
"It wasn't like, 'You pick one, then I'll pick one.' I mean, I can't hold a gun to James' head and make him sing a George Michael song or 'Wonderwall' by Oasis just because I like them. They are all songs we agreed we could handle and collectively do justice to," Ulrich explains. "It has less to do with artists than it does with songs. We weren't dying to cover Seger. No disrespect to Bob, but we chose 'Turn The Page' because it's an amazing song."
Ulrich says the band, managed by Q Prime and booked by QBQ Entertainment, is looking forward to playing the material live at a few shows at small venues. The Ballroom Blitz weeklong tour kicks off Nov. 17 at the Toronto Warehouse and includes a Nov. 19 Chicago Aragon Ballroom date and a Nov. 23 date at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. "We thought it'd be cool to go back to our garage roots and play a set list in the spirit of the album," Ulrich says. "We finally realized we don't have to tour behind every record."
As no West Coast dates are planned, Dwight Yoakam, Anna Nicole Smith, Tommy Lee, and Robert Duvall were among the lucky few who caught the Oct. 18 Metallica performance at the Playboy Mansion for the "Orgazmo" movie premiere. "You can put that under places I never thought we'd play, but it was fun, and I got to see the monkeys," Ulrich adds.
Metallica will take the beginning of the year off before hitting some festivals in Europe and South America. "Then we plan to take a lot of time with no pressure to concentrate on studio record No. 8. It's time to throw it all to the wind and steer the ship in a new direction," Ulrich says.
Although Ulrich doesn't have much in the way of details about the planned makeover, he assures that it doesn't mean the eyeliner will be put away or the hair will be grown long again.
"I still can't believe how much shit we got for that," he says of the band's "Load"-era new look. "Like we weren't metal if we were stylish. I think we will save the long hair and Motorhead T-shirts for the reunion tour. We will, however, be pushing the parameters and fucking with people's perceptions."