Metallica & Lou Reed – Lulu (Warner Bros, Vertigo)
Release Date: October 25, 2011
It’s a rare moment to see a collaboration of artists who have shaped the musical world around them with so much influencial material and have contributed staggering amounts of music to the public, unify to design a masterpiece of creation, a mass of genius, into one glorious spectacle. “It’s alive, it’s alive!” they cry as the creation jumps off the operating table and plows through the stone walls to terrorize the quiet village.
Behold, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Rob Trujillo and Lou Reed present: Lulu, a creation so obscure, so grotesque that you can almost hear all five of them cackling to themselves as they stand in the arch of the broken stone wall and watch as the whole village is ripped apart by their gruesome project.
Humorously enough, Lulu does bare some similarities to the icon that is Frankenstein’s monster, in the sense that it is something you should avoid with your life. I mean it, if you value your ability to hear, this experimental piece of… work should remain as far away from your lobes as humanly possible. Of course, that’s my own opinion as a listener. My duty as a reviewer is to delve deeper and try to understand the record, so if you just wanted a fleeting overview, you’ve had it.
Those of you who are curious, well, where do I begin? The collaboration of the former frontman of The Velvet Underground and the world’s biggest metal band made everyone say “what the fuck”, and right from the beginning, fan faith was minimal. Metallica, a group of aging thrashers who were massive in the late 80’s and early 90’s, hanging around thinking they’ve still got it, teaming with a withering old man who has contributed so much music to the world that if you stacked his albums on top of each other, you’d have to fly to the moon to place the last one at the peak. Lou Reed and Metallica are like chalk and cheese, you just can’t imagine them performing together, but there it is: Lulu.
As if they just couldn’t help themselves, Lulu spans 87 minutes over two discs. Fantastic. Lulu was originally composed by Lou Reed for a German play with the same name, which would explain Reed’s artistic approach to the composition and lyrics. The idea to have Metallica take the musical reins, although bizarre, was purely a means of elevating the music to the “next level”. I can’t help but believe that was the genuine intention, and I commend all five of these veteran musicians on trying something that is a complete detachment from the music of today, but this collaborative effort is just unforgivably unenjoyable.
Upon playing the first track “Brandenburg Gate”, you’ll immediately realize what you’ve gotten yourself into when you hear the opening lyrics which feature legs, tits and the actor who played the original Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff. What follows is truly a tragedy of art. Metallica, sounding very similar to their St Anger record but with an actual snare drum as opposed to a beer keg, launch into an initially promising and heavy three-chord riff, which suddenly dwindles as you find out that it repeats over and over again until the very end of the track. If that’s not enough to drive you insane, you are forced to listen to Lou Reed confuse himself between trying to sing and trying to read a 15-year-old’s extremely bad and depressing collection of attempted poetry. It’s moments like this where you begin to appreciate sounds that usually pierce your ear drums with relentless annoyance, such as a screaming baby or a fire alarm. I wish I could say it gets better, but the simplicity of “Brandenburg Gate” is merely the warm-up act to another 75 gruelling minutes of Lou Reed and Co’s unique vision.
There are moments throughout the album where you just want to strangle Lou Reed, because Metallica do have a few decent riffs and interesting musical sections that you would be able to enjoy if it wasn’t for Reed’s seemingly drunken ramblings. “Pumping Blood” is a perfect example of the frustration you will feel as Metallica jam some half-decent rock while Lou Reed bangs on about being a dark prostitute (sounding more like “dog prostitute”) and yelling “Oh Jack, I beseech ya!” like a homeless man had wandered into a Metallica rehearsal with a bottle of whiskey and ran around the room with the microphone.
Remember when your little brother or sister used to keep poking you in the arm until you got fed up and thumped them? Well that’s the experience you get when you hear “Mistress Dread”. The incredibly dull two-note shredding just goes on and on and on, and it even purposely tests your patience during the song’s ending by making you think that it’s going to stop, but instead thumps back into the droning dribble that you’ve already been listening to for six minutes. And not just once, it happens several times, just to piss you off. Lulu is laughing at you, and so is everyone who will benefit financially from this experimental garbage.
The closing songs, “Dragon” and “Junior Dad”, actually feel like there was an effort made to write a pair of decent tracks, and it sort of succeeds in some respect. However, at 11 minutes and a staggering 19 and a half minutes respectively, you need some real patience – especially after hearing the ridiculous workings of “The View” and “Frustration”. The latter half of “Junior Dad” plays out with some dark and thought-inducing strings, capping this album in a hauntingly pleasant way, but that’s mainly due to the relief of the album’s closure.
Between Lou Reed‘s indecisive attitude towards wanting the vocals to be spoken word or singing and Metallica‘s blind musical exploration which rarely actually seems to deviate from their current sound, it’s easy to figure out why Lulu won’t jump out as the incredible record they seem to think it is. Is it artsy? Yes, but is it any good? No, which leads me to think that this album isn’t for us at all. It’s for Lou Reed and Metallica. It’s for them to be able to say “Hey, we did something cool that no one else has ever done” and nothing more. The outcome isn’t pleasing for either fans of Lou Reed or Metallica because it just sounds terrible. There are redeeming qualities such as the heavy surge of disturbing chords that drive the track “Dragon” and the uncommon, genuinely emotional accounts eminating from Lou Reed‘s deepest heartstrings, but these factors are minimal when you observe the piece as a whole.
I don’t believe for a second that any other critic who wasn’t up his own arse could possibly enjoy this album. They’ll tell you that it’s a masterpiece of artistic merit from beginning to end, and that anyone who doesn’t enjoy Lulu obviously doesn’t understand its deeper meaning, but don’t be fooled by blatant brown-nosing, it’s a chore to listen to. One critic (who wrote linear notes for both The Velvet Underground and Metallica) even described this record as a “raging union of [Reed’s] 1973 noir classic, Berlin, and Metallica‘s ’86 crusher, Master Of Puppets“. I can only assume that he has his hands on the wrong CD, because Lulu doesn’t compare in any way, shape or form to Metallica‘s crowning album. I am open-minded and I can understand the artistic values that Lulu was aiming toward, but no matter how much I try to enjoy it, it is just not possible. It’s a mess. It genuinely sounds like five old blokes got pissed one night in a recording studio and decided to release a CD of the outcome.
It is pure self-satisfying toss. Most people have the common decency to have a wank in private, but not Lou Reed and Metallica. They have no shame while they pull down their pants and waft their lumbering genitals at the public. Do your bit for music, and avoid Lulu like it was coated in a thick layer of anthrax. It’ll just encourage them otherwise.
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Read our Metallica Retrospective HERE!