Reviewing every track on “The Metallica Blacklist” – Part 8: “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Welcome, all! As Mark is weary at just the thought of listening to an album-length set of covers of “Nothing Else Matters”, I thought I’d take the reins on this one. So far, our forays into the Black Album have proved that 1) its legendary status is mostly earned, 2) the original performances by Het & the Mets are part of what deserves that legendary status, and 3) that these covers have lived or died by their own creativity (or lack thereof) and love of the source material (or lack thereof).

Considering “Nothing Else Matters” is the crossover hit of the Black Album, appealing to metal-loving doofuses and pop-music snobs alike, I am not entirely surprised to see the likes of Dave Gahan, Yo-Yo Ma, and Hootie himself covering this one. But more than any other track on the Black Album, “Nothing Else Matters” has been butchered by friends and strangers alike in my life, and I imagine it’s going to take a nuanced understanding of the power and vulnerability of the song to make it work. I mean, I’ve butchered it who-knows-how-many times myself. Plus, the further along we go, the harder it will probably become to impress us. Exciting!

How about you, Mark? How many times have you plonked out that melodic intro on guitar?

Mark: Many times! Probably too many times! You know what else is too many of something? This many “Nothing Else Matters” covers!

“Nothing Else Matters” is my preferred Black Album ballad, but let’s not pretend that it’s not one of the cheesiest songs of Metallica’s career. It’s a well-written tune, though! Some really terrific guitar licks and chord progressions in this one. Papa Het’s vocal work in the verses fooled me well enough when I was a kid, but I have since soured on the dramatic performance of most of the lines here.

I’ll just always remember this song as the slow-dance song in grade school where you’d get to ditch the girl at the end and go slam around and headbang with the dudes! Priorities!

Phoebe Bridgers – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: A raggedy, textured piano and an extremely effected vocal recording. It’s an undeniably impressive vocal performance, and the harmonies sound fantastic, but I don’t think I’m on board with the production. It feels too artificial in its delicateness, or too cynical in its vulnerability. The chorus is especially great for its octave-up vocal approach. The highlight of the song for me is following the second chorus, when the strings linger just a little too long on an off chord.

Once the drums hit, it feels like the entire song, vocals included, has been run through a filter that adds the letter f to the beginning of every sound. This whole thing is beautiful, but it feels like forced intimacy, like when they crank up the sound of someone whispering in a song or movie. I’m surprised to say this one isn’t for me!

As a contrast, listen to how affecting this live Radiohead cover is with no production adornment. I know little about Phoebe Bridgers, but it’s clear that she’s full of great ideas. It’s just that this particular Metallica cover isn’t for me.

Mark: Jay is nuts. This cover is amazing. For my money, Phoebe Bridgers could just stop releasing original material altogether and just do covers all the time. Just listen to this Merle Haggard cover, for fuck’s sake.

I like this crystalline cover of the song, because it’s equally cheesy to the original, but in a different way. It’s like a hilarious baroque cover of the song that could be in a bad movie trailer. The vocal performance is great, and I love all of the effects applied to the lead and backing vocals.

Jay’s over here complaining about a contrived intimacy, when the song being covered features James Hetfield singing with a quivering pretty-man voice that I don’t believe for one minute, and then erupting into the world’s most explosive “YEAHR YEAAAAHRR”. Both versions are ludicrous and contrived, and they both totally work.

Grade: B (Jay), A (Mark)

Miley Cyrus feat. WATT, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo, Chad Smith – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Starting with a straightforward piano interpretation that adds some 70s rock flourish as it goes, not to mention a chorused acoustic guitar! This is hilariously classic rock to start. (I later realized it must be Elton John on piano, which made a lot of sense.)

I think it’s not particularly contentious to say that Miley Cyrus’s cover phase of her career has deserved a lot of its acclaims, even if it’s not something I’d sit around listening to. This is no exception. She has a very good knack for letting the vocals move and grow as needed to build the dynamics of the song. In that respect, she really gets the Het more than most.

And with each passing year, Miley Cyrus develops the timbre of my aunt who smoked too much. This is a great vocal performance. The addition of (presumably) Yo-Yo on the solo and outro is really a nice touch. The second (electric guitar) solo gave me chills and did such a good job of evoking the original solo while also adding a little new flair.

This is an impressive cover. But also, let’s be honest: all this bombast, when observed from a distance, is kind of hilarious and ludicrous. Cyrus sells it with a compelling and heartfelt vocal performance, but the whole thing is one step off from a musical, or from Meatloaf.

Once again, I’d like to emphasize that I’d gladly listen to Meatloaf cover any (all?) of the Black Album.

Mark: This one is immediately hilarious and enjoyable. Sir Elton is shredding it.

I have almost nothing to add that Jay hasn’t already said, so I’ll just talk about this music video. The horses! The cowboy! The giant clock!

This cover is pretty outstanding. It’s the biggest cover on the whole Blacklist so far. Just massive. I commend everyone involved.

Grade: A (Jay and Mark)

Dave Gahan – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: OK, I know I’m biased by my synth nerdery, but this is the one I was most excited about. My brother used to call Depeche Mode “Depressed Mode” and, while he wasn’t wrong, I still loved the singles from Violator deeply before I was even into music in a meaningful way.

Really lovely sounds to start this version. The chordal choices during the verses and choruses, the slight variations on the original, really are awesome and rewarding for someone who knows the song well already.

And Gahan’s range is perfect for these gentle parts, just enough bite on top of a very breathy performance.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I love these sounds. By the second verse I’m wondering if the song needs a little more in terms of vocal energy or arrangement, like bass and drums, but I’m also just very very happy to sit here listening to this cover all day exactly how it is.

When the bass does hit, in the middle of the third verse, it feels emotionally huge. And even though the “drums” are sparse, they do immense work and drive the song toward the finish line.

This is an exceptional cover.

Mark: I really like the way that this cover switches up the chord progressions. Really gives this this a fresh feel. The synth sounds are pretty gorgeous, as well. I feel as though this vocal performance is only so-so, but then, I’m only a casual fan of Peaches A’la Mode, so maybe I’m missing something.

Big points to this one for reimagining the core song. It’s very good. Maybe not A+ good. But I guess this track dovetails a lot of elements that are Jay Hosking catnip (synths, old goths, the song “Nothing Else Matters”). Pretty good, though!

Grade: A+ (Jay), B+ (Mark)

Mickey Guyton – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Mickey Guyton has the unenviable job of being the first artist on this list that I’m not familiar with by name. Taking a quick look, it appears she is a country artist, which sets my expectations. Let’s take a listen!

The intro/verse part to start feels too atonal and missing the main progression. I think it’s that percussion sound with a ton of reverb on it. Once the bass drops, I feel like I’m listening to another one of the covers in this collection that were created because they’d be good career moves, not because the artist loved the song and wanted to contribute something to the song’s legacy. But maybe I’m just projecting!

All the elements here sound professional, and it’s worlds better than many of the other covers in the Blacklist, but after all the previous versions, this really doesn’t do much for me. Bummer.

Mark: Okay, this one is the real “modern interpretation of an old song for a movie trailer” version. I kinda like the vibe of this cover once the drums kick in, and the production really starts to boil over as the song moves into the “guitar solo” section.

I think that this one sounds pretty big, actually. I don’t totally love the performance, as it’s in a mode that I generally don’t prefer. The track lands somewhere between “TV singing competition cover song” and “No-name artist covers recognizable song for a James Bond ripoff film”.

Far from the worst cover on The Blacklist.

Grade: C (Jay), C+ (Mark)

Dermot Kennedy – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Another name I don’t recognize, Dermot Kennedy seems to be an Irish singer-songer. Let’s see what they have to offer…

They have a straightforward piano interpretation to offer. I have to say that I really appreciate the differences in vowels that comes from Kennedy’s accent. The piano is a little lo-fi and textured, but unlike the Bridgers song, it’s not so in your face that it feels super forced.

Kennedy goes to the well on the first chorus, and while it’s extremely good, it feels a bit too early. Still, he’s selling it with this vocal performance. And to add in a Het “yeah yeah!” really shows that he’s not embarrassed of the origins of this song, and what made it so great.

This cover also gets something else right: instead of trying to reproduce the entire song in its lengthy original form, it ends it short and sweet. Overall, an affecting and beautiful interpretation.

Mark: This is actually pretty good. The vocal take really lifts it, being just different enough from the original to remain consistently interesting. It’s funny, because the performance is pretty melodramatic, but it’s within the confines of a song that is so melodramatic in and of itself that this version sounds almost… grounded.

I don’t know, there’s not much to make fun of here. It’s good work. Would be impressed if I saw someone whip this out onstage at a bar. Probably not the kind of thing that I would throw on and listen to, but if I’m being honest, the original version sure isn’t the kind of thing that I would throw on and listen to either.

Grade: A (Jay), B+ (Mark)

Mon Laferte – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Mon Laferte is another name I’m not familiar with, this time a Chilean singer. Considering the opening guitar bit of “Nothing Else Matters” always had a bit of a Latin feel to it, this cover seems like the closest so far to bringing the song to its roots.

It’s a very lavish production with an extraordinary number of stringed instruments. I’m also grateful to hear a translated version, and while I can’t appreciate the quality of the translation, it’s great to hear a new approach at this point in this slate of covers.

I love the percussion that sounds like someone placing their palm on the body of an acoustic guitar. Really adds energy and momentum to the piece.

The vocal performance isn’t my favourite, but honestly Laferte is up against some stiff competition in this batch of artists.

The first bridge makes it clear how much the Mets aped from Latin music in the creation of their song. It feels so appropriate in this arrangement. And the Hammett solo played on nylon-stringed guitar sounds great.

Overall, not my favourite version, but I love hearing the song in an element that’s arguably more fitting than the original version.

Mark: The “Stairway To Heaven” flutes have sold this for me already as possibly the funniest version, which means that it’s also one of the best. The production is over. the. top. But Jay is right, the Latin feel fits like a glove.

The vocal performance is very funny. The translated lyrics and the way that the vocal is delivered make me flashback to that scene in The Big Lebowski where that Spanish cover of “Hotel California” plays and is simultaneously awesome and hilarious.

The production swells to a fittingly ludicrous crescendo that makes me feel like I’m riding a horse and feeling very sad but determined to turn things around. HOW MANY SONGS CAN PULL THAT OFF?!

This is enjoyable to me on a number of levels. I think Jay’s grading here is accurate. B+ effort.

Grade: B+ (Jay and Mark)

Igor Levit – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Igor Levit is a German pianist, so says a quick search. And immediately in the first notes, it’s clear we’re going to get an interpretation of the original, rather than a cover that sticks close to the original.

I won’t lie. These sorts of reinterpretations on piano are a sweet spot for me. Levit manages to capture the feeling of the original while adding plenty of modern classical dissonance. The further along this goes, the more I’m unsure he’ll be able to sustain it for the entire five minutes, but it’s been a good listen so far.

Rounding the four-minute mark, Levit travels into some aggressively dissonant territory that almost doesn’t resemble the original at all, before moving back into our familiar chorus. It doesn’t all work for me, but I admire the approach here.

Mark: I like this cover because I’m so used to the original song, anything that keeps me guessing is offering me some novel entertainment. I will say, though, that this sounds like a one-take fuckaround track recorded by some genius piano god over his lunch break for some extra cash. Probably the sheet music was rushed to him by some super nervous and frazzled assistant who spilled coffee on the pages at the last minute and the ink all ran together and that’s why this version is kind of different.

Igor probably shouted something like “WHAT IS THIS I CAN’T PERFORM READING THIS MESS” (but in German), and his producer sort of gave him one of those over-the-eyeglasses glares and tapped his watch, because they have reservations at some nice restaurant for lunch, so Igor was just like “Alright, fuck it” (but in German).

Good cover! B sounds about right.

Grade: B (Jay and Mark)

My Morning Jacket – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: Pfft. What is this shit?

Mark: Hahahaha. Alright, this one is actually the funniest one.

Audacious choice to just take the lyrics from “Nothing Else Matters” and stick them into a different song. Even more audacious to make that song one of the worst … indie pop(?) songs I’ve heard in recent memories.

IF SOMEONE GAVE ME THIS JACKET AS A GIFT, I WOULD ASK FOR THE RECEIPT IN ORDER TO RETURN IT.

Grade: F (Jay and Mark)

PG Roxette – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: PG Roxette is the dude from Roxette. Gotta be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Roxette to begin with, and I didn’t even know there was a “dude from Roxette”.

This is a maudlin version with what sounds like theramin (in the video I see it’s ondes Martenot), some not great synth work, some average vocal performances by a couple of women, and a pretty subpar vocal performance from PG himself. The chord progression changes and arrangement additions to this song suggest that this version is another “good for my career” choice. There is little to like here. Woof.

Mark: I loved Roxette when I was, like, seven years old! Unfortunately, this does not sound anything like one of Roxette’s hits, which would have been very fun. I don’t know how they would have pulled it off, but it would have been fun. Instead it’s a very low energy synth-heavy version with zero punch and zero interesting ideas.

For me, this version is only elevated by the video accompaniment, because this video is absolutely hysterical. It is a Christopher Guest mockumentary level laugh riot. PG Roxette emoting his way through his (quite bad) performance, and clearly having the time of his life. It is killing me. I am dead.

I agree with Jay. This is clearly the best and possibly only big opportunity that PG Roxette has had in 10-15 (25 maybe?) years to gain some reasonable exposure. Ever since Savage Garden basically stole his sound and started eating Roxette’s breakfast in the mid 90s. It would be sad if it wasn’t actually very hilarious.

Grade: D+ (Jay), D (Mark)

Darius Rucker – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: OK, I have to be honest that I have a little glee knowing that this next version is from the singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. I haven’t heard Rucker in years, and really, he does have a pleasing voice. I wonder what this cover will be like!

It will be seven minutes long, it turns out! The guitar line is more or less a direct reproduction of the original, but the strings don’t wait to swell; they’re swollen right off the top.

This is great guitar work, even if it’s just a straight cover.

Rucker’s vocal performance is a little pushed to the back of the mix, and a little less intimate than I was expecting. It’s interesting to hear how his voice has aged, mostly in a fuzzy way. I do wish there was less bombast in the production and more emphasis on his voice and that excellent guitar performance.

Overall, this version feels too straight, too big, and too cold. There are some nice moments, but it’s obvious Rucker couldn’t ascend to the vocals heights of Het-dom and that his performance is carefully mixed and auto-tuned for the crescendo. All in all, it’s simply a mechanical, inferior version of the original. Another bummer.

Mark: Hootie is really leaning into his current Country-music-guy voice for this cover. Wow, this cover is playing it straight as hell. I’m so bored.

Since Jay barely said anything about the My Morning Jacket version and I don’t feel like saying much about this, I’m using a get out of jail free card to bail on this one.

Grade: C (Jay), Pass (Mark)

Chris Stapleton – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: I’m vaguely familiar with this name, but still had to look him up. Looks like another singer-songer (yes, I know it’s supposed to be “songwriter”, but “songer” always felt like a lost opportunity), in the pop-country vein. My expectations are set appropriately low.

And that said, I really like the guitar sound this version starts with. I sort of like the cowboy reinterpretation of the verse vocals, but I think the chord changes in the verse take some of the heart out of the song.

The harmonies undercut the “lone wolf” sound of the vocal delivery. The chorus goes to a straighter reproduction of the original song. It could just be fatigue, but this version feels morose.

Overall, this version is missing the point of the song, what made the song a classic in the first place. It replaces the sadness and frustration of the original for a sullen cowboy schtick. It doesn’t work for me at all. Plus, it’s over eight-minutes long and its solo sucks!

Mark, as the aficionado in all things cowboy rock, what say you of this version?

Mark: Jesus H Christ, this is eight minutes long.

I already like it, though. If it was three minutes, I would give it a good grade for sure.

The vocal approach is totally great for this tune. The thick guitar, soaked in reverb, and its use of fun little licks to end off the verse phrases is really working for me. Also, I’m totally digging the slow stomp of the track.

This take actually seems to have a sense of grit and guts that all of the other covers have been lacking so far. Some of them (most of them) have been big, but none of them have been dirty. This one is pretty dirty! I like it!

But yeah, I’m now at the 3:30 minutes mark and I’m ready to call it quits. How could this possibly go on for another five minutes? I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, because I’ve enjoyed it so far.

Oh. It ends with a five minute long jam session. Well, there’s nothing I hate more than a jam session. Instant letter grade drop.

Grade: C- (Jay), C+ (Mark)

TRESOR – “Nothing Else Matters”

Jay: TRESOR appears to be a Congolese artist. Maybe he can bring something new to this very long set of covers?

An acoustic guitar playing a faithful version of the original, albeit with phaser and delay to start. The key change was smart, in that it really suits TRESOR’s voice. This is a pretty faithful adaptation, but it’s clear that there was thought put into the movement of the song, in both arrangement and vocal performance. It offers just enough new in terms of recording and the singing that I enjoyed this performance. Some nice, subtle choices, like the busy percussion in the third verse, the “hey-a, hi-ya” vocals in the second chorus, and the breakdown for the first bridge to really emphasize Hammett’s classic guitar lines. Plus a reproduction of the original solo at the next bridge.

The more this version progresses, the more I’m impressed with it. Clearly the work of someone who understands why the song is great, while also working the material to suit his strengths, especially in terms of the vocals. TRESOR made me feel something after four really lacklustre versions.

Mark: To me, this sounds even more 80s-tinged than the Depeche Mode one. Not a bad thing, but something about the production (particularly in the choruses) sounds so 80s-slick to me. I like this version well enough. Perhaps less than Jay. But there are a lot of production choices here that work really well, and the vocal take is really interesting and well delivered.

Maybe one of the more straight up interesting versions of the song? Pretty good.

Grade: A- (Jay), B

Metallica – “Nothing Else Matters” (Remastered)

Jay: We did it! We made it to the end. Really interesting to hear this version after so many different interpretations. The guitar sound off the top is much weirder than I remember.

This song, this particular version, is a master class in how to arrange a song that builds in terms of intensity and emotion. From the introduction of the strings off the top, to the subdued lead in the middle of the first verse, to Lars’s drum fills building in complexity and intensity as it goes, to the approximately one million guitars by the songs climax, it knows exactly how to guide your experience of the song.

And most importantly, there is Hetfield’s absolutely awesome vocals. He moves perfectly from from soft and sweet to “yeah yeah!” in a way that I had never heard before. Even the way he sings the third verse in a much more up-front and emotional way than the first is impressive. The chorus singing is legendary.

And when the distorted guitars and solo comes in, it’s chilling to the bone. I still get goosebumps. I have them right now. Rarely is a solo and distorted section so earned as this.

Until now, I would have referred to myself as a casual listener of Metallica, but it’s clear to me that the Mets have managed to sink their teeth into my subconscious when it comes to songwriting, emoting in music, the use of melody with heavier elements, and much more. “Nothing Else Matters” is undeniably a bit corny in 2021, certainly more than it was when it debuted, but even today it’s hard for me to hear this version and not think it’s impressive.

Mark: Everything Jay said, but less emphatically. Hahaha.

It’s a great tune, and it does what it does really well. If old school Metallica fans weren’t pissed off by “The Unforgiven”, they must have been piiiiissed when they heard this one. I would much rather sink my teeth into one of the real bangers off of this album, but I can’t complain about much that this song has on offer.

That said, I’ll sure try!

Het’s vocals tip over into a cheesy “sensitive guy feeling feelings” pastiche on certain lines, and it is difficult to listen to and even more difficult to believe. After hearing a bunch of versions of this song with more naturalistic drum production, there’s something about the Lars Black Album bass drum that sounds waaaaay out of step with the rest of the song (except when it gets heavy). There’s absolutely no dynamic to the way that the drums are produced and performed. Like, just ease up on them for the first half of the song, Lars. C’mon.

The good: Some really wonderful melodic guitar work. The aforementioned “Yeah yeah” is undeniable. It is better than “The Unforgiven”.

Grade: A+ (Jay), A- (Mark)

Next installment: “Of Wolf And Man” – performed by Goodnight, Texas.

Author: markmeeks

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