SHEL, Metallica and why sometimes these things are just not a good idea…
By Yok Rzeznic
There is something inevitable we all have to expect as the discerning music listeners that we are, the reality that every now and again something is going to come along that makes us ill.
Now, while it is true that some music that pisses you off, it can be easily avoided because it’s your choice of what you listen to in private situations, and your preference of social venues can be influenced heavily by what kind of music you might be subjected to. There are some things that will get to you regardless, because of that sick sense of curiosity we all suffer.
What I am getting at is the remarkably insipid cover of the Metallica classic, Enter Sandman, by ‘folk pop’ (Yes, sadly this is a thing) quartet SHEL, a group of pixie like multi-instrumentalists who basically aim make everything the soundtrack to the cutest goddamn hobby farm you’ve ever seen. The kind of thing that the airheaded pseudo-intellectual hipster types would listen to when the hard-edged, overbearing masculinity of Henry (F*cking) Wagons got too much.
Where was I? Oh, yes, Enter Sandman, so appropriately chosen by title as it induces the listener to a coma like sleep, or it would do if it wasn’t so distractingly short and bemusingly banal. What have we done as a listener group to deserve this? Sure, we had all rolled our eyes with a forced ‘Oh you…’ when another pop-punk band did it’s shiny, chirpy version of an 80’s synth classic, then we shrugged when nu-metal would attack things the same way.
After all, it was cruise control for cash way back when musicians could actually make money, any no-name could bust onto the international media scene with a well-made cover that drips with irony and the possibility of musical integrity that would just never be matched. Some groups were even formed for the singular purpose of making such covers and some have done very well.
But it has worked for them because, for the most part, they have added to the song, rather than taken away from it, which is exactly the problem we seem to be having with Shel’s version of Sandman.
For one, it has been stripped down beyond bare bones until it is basically a ghost of the original track, wafting around the room like a plastic shopping bag caught in a brief updraft. In essence, everything that made the song interesting and exciting in the first place, has been painstakingly (Or accidentally, it is hard to tell) removed from its form. What is left has been replaced with vapid recreations of parts that are only there to remind us what song we are actually listening to in the full awareness that we could be forgiven for thinking it was a completely different song altogether.
The strongest part of the listening experience of this cover is the apparent weakness of the experience, so much so it isn’t even endearing. There is barely half an hours’ worth of work on the sequencing, and most of that time would have been used to decide the volume levels. Add to that the ‘This is really in right now’ style vocals of a meek and softly spoken teen struggling with laryngitis to the point where there are whole words missing from some of the lines.
On top of that, as you might know if you had pressed yourself to endure the slight 2 minutes and 51 seconds of a song that was originally 5 minutes 30, it just goes nowhere as it has nowhere to go. As if there was a conscious effort to trim so much fat to placate the rapid fire attention span of the average Millennial, that it wasn’t even worth making the effort to either go the distance and cover the actual song properly or put the effort in to make it interesting enough to capture anyone’s attention for more than a few disappointing seconds.
But what do Shel get from all this? A big old load of attention! So I guess they get to win either way!
While their Facebook page is currently down (No doubt as a result of negative reactions to this cover, sadly, there are some assholes out there who cannot contain themselves) and Metallica’s legal team might even step in at some point, Shel are now more famous than they ever have been. For better or worse.
But this is what it’s come to folks, half-arsed abbreviations of once great songs for the modern listener in a field where anyone could download basic synth software and throw 3-4 tracks of preset patches together and be the darling of Soundcloud for the week.
Or is there a deeper meaning, is this the kind of trash that folk heads hear when they are presented with something along the lines of Disturbed getting all the attention Dave Draiman needs to survive by covering Simon & Garfunkel? Is this Shel cover an equal and opposite reaction to such a move? Something so disgusting yet so tangible that no one wanted to make the first move towards it and it took someone who believed that whatever they touched would turn to gold to lower the bar a notch or two further down?
We have some thinking to do, collectively. But as a final note, I think we could have done without either.