In Defense of Bob Rock
Bob Rock gets a bum rap.
For Metallica fans who are displeased that the band ever dared to evolve artistically instead of going the Slayer route of making the same record again and again and again, Rock became an easy scapegoat; he and Jason Newsted were the two key personnel members who weren’t present for the band’s thrashier era, so it was easy to point to them as the source of the so-called “problem” with 90s-era Metallica. But those fans basically gave Newsted a free pass; yes, many of them took the position that the band’s sound never would have changed if Cliff Burton were still alive, but you didn’t hear a lot of people running around calling for Newsted to be sacked they way they literally petitioned to have Bob Rock fired. Because of his lack of songwriting credits and the infamous hazing he was put through after joining the band, Newsted was seen, rightfully or wrongfully, as being more or less powerless over Metallica’s creative direction.
Rock, meanwhile, was resented by a portion of Metallica’s audience before they heard a single note of The Black Album. The producer made his name working with bands like Mötley Crüe and Blue Murder, the former of which infamously feuded with Metallica. As a result, Rock was characterized as a “pussy producer” for “pussy bands.” Blaming him for Metallica’s alleged creative misdeeds, then, allowed fans to vent their frustration and pat themselves on the back: “See, I told you all along that dude was bad news!” Never mind that none of the albums he made with Metallica ended up fulfilling fears that he’d turn them into Bon Jovi.
So Rock ended up shouldering all the misplaced blame.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say Rock shouldered ALL the blame. That aforementioned petition to have Rock fired? It was called “Save Metallica.” Fans who signed the petition afforded Rock the metaphoric equivalency of a malignant tumor. Which is insane, for a number of reasons.
First of all, the mere fact that Rock had nothing to do with the generally-lambasted Lulu proves that his removal alone would not be enough to “save Metallica.” Metallica are big boys who can make their own decisions.
Which is aptly demonstrated by both A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica and Some Kind of Monster. Rock was never a dictator in the studio, and the dudes in Metallica are not exactly wallflowers who are afraid to express their opinions. Furthermore, they clearly seek out constructive criticism from a number of sources besides just Rock (e.g., their managers, Lars Ulrich’s dad, etc.).
You really have to distort reality, then, to see the Rocktallica albums as anything other than creative collaborations. Regardless of what you think of those records, one man does not deserve all the credit or all the blame for how they turned out.
But what’s really, really irritating about this revisionist view of Metallica history is that it discounts how good The Black Album, Load, and Reload all sound. I mean, I don’t love the Loads, but my quips with them have nothing to do with the way they sound. And it’s flat-out time to stop apologizing for The Black Album. No less than Master of Puppets, the record is a goddamn masterpiece, and Rock deserves as much of the credit for that as the band does. I mean, have you ever listened to the isolated tracks from The Black Album? I defy you to tell me this shit doesn’t sound A++++++:
Look: I’m not trying to say Metallica should reunite with Bob Rock. Hardwired sounds better than any Metallica album since Metallica; Greg Fidelman did a great job, and given how much shit he took for Death Magnetic, he deserves a victory lap now. I’m just saying this: leave Bob Rock alone. Without him, there’s a chance we wouldn’t even be here talking about Metallica now. He does not deserve your hate.