Mark: Last week we cracked open The Metallica Blacklist by listening to seven different versions of “Enter Sandman” (including the original), and I must admit… it immediately started to feel a little exhausting.
Some of the tracks offered an interesting wrinkle on a tune we’ve all heard hundreds of times, but it just felt like a lot of “Enter Sandman” to consume in one sitting. When I was a younger man living in Toronto Rock City, a local DJ friend used to throw dance parties for charity that involved him only spinning one song all night. It was an exercise in endurance and it stretched the concept of “fun” to the very limits of what one might imagine fun to be. I myself attended the “Only ‘Ace of Spades'” party and I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet. It’s been like 13 years since that or something.
I’m not sure where I was going with this. Let’s listen to a pile of versions of “Sad But True”.
Jay: Last week’s sojourn into the MCU (Metallica Covers Universe) left me feeling quite a bit like the other MCU: nothing was outright poorly done, but much felt uninspired or targeted at demographics that were not my own. That said, it’s always fun to see classics approached in new ways, and I enjoyed the experience.
However, I have to admit that I’m not much of a fan of the song “Sad But True”, and find its lyrics to have too much of a punchline to them. I didn’t love it before, and after years of not hearing it, I imagine I’m going to like it even less. But me not liking anything has become its own punchline with my friends, so let’s do this!
Sam Fender – “Sad But True”
Mark: I’ll get it out of the way and say that this video is fucking hysterical. Just three minutes of the Robaxacet puppet living in a world without relief from back pain. Hahaha. Wow.
This is definitely the “sad cover for movie trailer” version. I don’t know who Sam Fender is, but the performance is just a shade over the top for my tastes. I sort of like the arrangement and production on this, though. I have always thought of “Sad But True” as a grinder of a song. Not tuneless, but not really a melodic showpiece. This version of the song extracts a surprising degree of melody from the song while staying somewhat recognizable.
This isn’t awful, but it’s also kind of cringeworthy. Does that make sense?
Jay: Holy mackinaw, I love this. After my stupid introduction, it turns out that I don’t in fact hate everything, and that this version is very much up my alley. Now I will concede that Mark is right, that this has a distinct “movie licensing deal” feel to it. But the truly incredible restructured chord progressions, the earnestness and range of the vocal delivery, the off-the-cuff delivery, the tremendous emotional depth… this is hands down the best cover I’ve heard from this entire collection, and for me surpasses the original version by a country mile. Turns out I was the Robaxacet puppet all along, skulking around for some relief. Also, who is Sam Fender? Should I know who Sam Fender is already?
Grade: C (Mark), A+ (Jay)
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Sad But True”
Mark: This is surprisingly fun. I dig the gritty recording and the arrangement is a total toe-tapper. If I were watching a roadhouse country band pull this cover out of their pocket at a live show, I would probably lose my shit.
A version like this is what I was hoping for out of The Metallica Blacklist. A complete departure from the original material, not just a retread. It’s definitely the same song, but a really fresh take on it. Given that I like the original song well enough, I actually think that this is a really good time.
Jay: After the first ten seconds, it was clear this version wasn’t my thing. It sounds like an impression of a music/lifestyle that no longer exists in earnest. I will admit that the verse vocals work in this format, but overall this is one of those pop culture sounds that have regressed into the infinite void of cultural consciousness. Mark recently made a joke about how Run the Jewels only appeals to white dudes like me (fair play); similarly, this version is cowboy music for people who watch AMC shows and never visit the desert. Mark, I’m looking at you.
Grade: B+ (Mark), C- (Jay)
Mexican Institute of Sound, La Perla, Gera MX – “Sad But True”
Mark: Instant classic for being immediately hilarious.
It seems like this one is largely a mix of sampled tracks from the original tune, electronic percussion and sonics, and … Mexican horns. Also there’s some rapping. It’s a real dog’s breakfast of elements, all smashed together in a very, very funny mess.
I can’t say that I like this, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s another track that would be terrific as a novelty featured in a film or something. Like, imagine a movie’s villain pulling up in a shiny car blasting this song. Just tremendous. I can’t give this a failing grade.
Oh my god, the trumpet solo is unbelievable. This track is amazing.
Jay: What an intro! Hah, what am I listening to? I do dig the main riff played on trumpet, but I’ll agree with Mark on this being a little too much of the kitchen-sink approach to song arrangement. It’s also fun to hear the nearly isolated Hetfield vocals on the chorus, followed immediately by a rousing section in Spanish. This solo, with the relentless percussion in the background… there’s a lot here. Like Mark, I’d chuckle if I heard it in the background of something else. As a piece on its own, it’s extremely over the top, and that’s simultaneously its best and worst feature.
Royal Blood – “Sad But True”
Mark: I had never heard of Royal Blood before watching half of some Netflix documentary about drummers. I remember thinking “Huh, these guys are huge. Why haven’t I heard of them? Oh… I don’t care for them.”
Royal Blood is just kinda modern hard rock/riff rock, so I’m not super surprised that their version of “Sad But True” is ultra-faithful to the original. I believe that this band is just bass guitar and drums, which is sort of interesting, but after all of the distortion and effects are laid onto it… it really just sounds like a bunch of chunky guitars. Like the original.
The effects on the guitar solo section are pretty nifty and elevate this track a bit, but overall I find the vocal approach to be pretty bland and the general execution of this cover to be uninspiring.
Jay: Again, I’m not a huge fan of the original song, so a super faithful rendition doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I do think the production sounds pretty good, and I like that guitar tone (thanks, Mark, for letting me know it’s basically all highly-effected bass). Seems like there are some good drum flourishes, and I like how much I can hear the whole drum sound. I’m not much for that solo, or the vocals, or the lack of movement/dynamics. Meh. Good to know I’m not the only Robaxacet dummy out there, though.
St Vincent – “Sad But True”
Mark: I have liked a lot of St Vincent’s tunes, and I have to admit that this St Vincent covers Metallica while channeling Nine Inch Nails really works for me. It takes the boneheaded crunch of the original track and turns it into a sexy lurch. Again, put this in a movie. Nightclub in a basement. Done.
Annie Clark’s vocal take on this cover is pretty straightforward and I think it locks in with the track really nicely. The whole effort builds a vibe rather than screaming in my face. Nice work!
Jay: Now that’s some really killer production, especially those drum sounds. I had an era of St. Vincent’s music that was extremely influential and meaningful to me, so I’m going to be biased on this one. I like the jagged staccato moments at the end of the choruses, that fall off the tempo a little. This feels like it’s channeling some Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. I think the weakest part is the “heart” of the song, in that it’s really leaning into the seedy feeling of the original without adding any emotional nuance in the human elements, like the vocals. I like hearing some of these sounds, but it doesn’t evoke much in me.
White Reaper – “Sad But True”
Mark: I don’t know who White Reaper is, but this is about as faithful a cover as one could imagine. They must be some kind of straight-ahead hard rock band.
Honestly, other than some nifty drum licks in this track, I cannot see any argument for listening to this over the original. It’s just the Metallica version with slightly cleaner vocals. A proficient performance, but completely unnecessary. Pass.
Jay: Another extremely faithful cover, eh? Comparing this to the DeMarco cover from last time, where I said I would be impressed if my friend’s band had recorded it, I feel about the same here. Actually I think I might like it a little better. Not much to say about this one, other than it’s certainly “Sad But True”.
Grade: D+ (Mark), C (Jay)
YB – “Sad But True
Mark: Alright, let’s take this double-time!
Apparently YB is a South Korean rock band? I give them credit for injecting some pep into the tune after a bunch of covers that have sort of doubled down on the slow stomp of the original. The drummer is doing great work keeping this interesting. The guitar approach has a bit more of a thrash-a-billy vibe that works out reasonably well. The vocal performance is okay but not great, and…
OH FUCK GIANT HORN SECTION BREAKDOWN
Haha. Audacious choice.
This is a gross generalization, but having seen a lot of South Korean films and television, there’s absolutely nothing half-assed about the way that this country approaches artistic production. The films are always extra-slick, the shows have the wildest visual effects, and this cover of “Sad But True” is produced out the wazoo with a bunch of unexpected change-ups and like 15 horns.
Jay: This is an invigorating cover. In particular, I love two things: the drums are rhythmically extremely interesting and varied; and the rhythms and guitar ideas of the chorus suddenly make sense of a chorus I’ve never really liked. Again, I’d say this is thoroughly better than the original. The bridge is super neat. The horns are superb. The bass sounds fantastic. The drums just keep giving me good things to pay attention to. The final verse builds into an absolutely huge riff before the final chorus. I love it.
Grade: B (Mark), A (Jay)
Metallica – “Sad But True” (Remastered)
Mark: Similar to the “Sandman” remaster, this track sounds huge. It’s just a pounding, pummeling tune. And it’s… pretty good. I don’t think that this track is quite the classic that “Enter Sandman” is. I think it’s just fine.
I definitely thought it was impressively heavy when I heard it as a kid. I remember being particularly taken off guard back then by the little off-time drum queues. That little abrupt triplet when Papa Het sings “YOU KNOW IT’S” remains a very nifty little trick. Good job, Lars.
It probably says something, though, that there are maybe two or three of these covers that I would probably be more likely to put on and listen to in the future than the original version. Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that I’m in the camp that would rather put on ANY of the older Metallica thrash records than ANY song off of The Black Album. So that’s where I’m coming from on this.
Jay: The best part of this song is the long pause in the intro and then those five snare hits. I could pretty much live without the rest. Sad but true.
Grade: B (Mark), C (Jay)
Next installment: “Holier Than Thou” – covered by Biffy Clyro, The Chats, OFF!, Pup, and Corey Taylor (lol).