You know the dread that comes over you when a friend offers to show you all their wedding photos? And the video too? Well that's the feeling you ought to get if somebody offers to play you a track from Lou Reed and Metallica's collaboration, 'Lulu'. I've had the opportunity to listen to the entire album. All of it. Every note. It's fair to say that it has left a lasting impression.
MetalTalk.net is all about positivity. We love our Metal and we're certainly not here to knock rock stars with fragile egos and too much money off their perches. Something, however, has gone horribly wrong and it's only fair that we should hold a Metal inquisition.
The first thing to establish is exactly what on earth this is. Well, according to the official press release, 'Lulu' is a set of extended songs inspired by German expressionist Frank Wedekind's early 20th Century plays, 'Earth Spirit' and 'Pandora's Box' (much admired by Freud). The plays, originally published in 1904 and set in Germany, Paris and London in the 1890s, whirl between the points of view of Lulu, an inverted-Eve-like cipher-mirror of desire and abuse, and the people who fall desperately in love with her. Then she meets Jack The Ripper...
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Reed had previously sketched out some lyrics and after meeting with Metallica in 2009, they decided to work together. At first glance, a genuinely innovative and exciting idea. The power and intensity of Metallica in full flow, but with a lyricist and poet who can write words that infiltrate your soul.
As a fully inducted member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Lou Reed has earned a great deal of respect throughout his career. His dark, obscure and nihilistic outpourings are perfect for heavy Metal and there's a genuine resonance between the music and lyrics on Lulu. It's unfortunate then that, as far as I can tell, it's pure self-indulgent nonsense.
What we have here is a mixed bag of pretentious lyrics and tedious music which surprises and delights in equal measure. Surprises because it's much more boring and faux-intellectual than I could have imagined. And delights because it is hilarious to think that thousands of unsuspecting rednecks in the Deep South may be getting this for Christmas alongside their new baseball cap and Kid Rock's Greatest Hits.
In my opinion, Metallica have struggled for years now to lay the ghost of 'The Black Album' to rest. Regardless of your opinion on that
record, it is a monster and it's not that they aren't talented enough to move forward, but I've always felt they lost their sense of purpose. As a fervently anti-establishment band in the early eighties, 'The Black Album' introduced them to the mainstream. It simultaneously launched them into the stratosphere and ruined their Metal credentials. Millions of people who would never touch a Slayer or Megadeth album suddenly embraced Metallica, who just recently performed at a corporate event for Salesforce.com. That's the sort of behaviour you expect from KISS, not a proper thrash Metal band.
Lou Reed, on the other hand, clearly needs an outlet for his poetry. The bin would be my suggestion. However, Metallica have decided to put it to music. Fair enough. They probably weren't sure how to politely say "no", and the next thing you know they're all in a recording studio, and one thing led to another. I'm presuming Trent Reznor had a similar issues when Rob Halford popped in one day wearing a feather boa and eyeliner, clutching some surreal lyrics, asking to make an industrial album with his new band, 2wo.
What interests me is that the album is very true to itself and is totally non-commercial. It means that if this sells or is critically acclaimed, it will be on the strength of the material and not because there are two famous names involved. The cover artwork is provocative and blatantly sets the tone for what's inside. And the overall lyrical content and musical feel is basically the mad Danish director, Lars von Trier, set to music. So far so Lou Reed then.
Getting under the skin of 'Lulu' requires patience, stamina and a very open mind. It's a record that will polarise opinion for years to come, but I'm sure - just like Meatloaf's 'Bat Out Of Hell III' - there is somebody, somewhere, alone and in a black T-shirt, who will genuinely appreciate this record.
Notable moments include:
'The View', an interesting slow-paced track with a gentle drum intro and an introspective poetry-style spoken word delivery. There's a real sense of Michael Stipe's vocal from REM's 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi', another deliberately non-commercial piece. This track reminds me strongly of 'E-bow The Letter'. It's just nowhere near as good.
'Frustration' focuses just on the drums and vocals for large parts. It's interesting to hear Lars freestyling with Reed droning over the top. It's certainly different and definitely doesn't sound like it was written by an eight year-old with ADHD.
According to press interviews with the band, 'Junior Dad', the nineteen-minute finale, brought James and Kirk to tears. The last eight minutes or so is just the sound of what may be a viola gently playing one note. It will reduce most Metallica fans to tears.
Reviewing a collaboration is a tricky business. Is this a Metallica album featuring Lou Reed or a Lou Reed album featuring Metallica? The difference is important. Lou Reed being a seminal sixties and seventies artistic pioneer. Metallica being the world's most popular heavy Metal band. They have widely different audiences and little crossover.
A new Lou Reed album is to be treated with extreme caution. It's bound to be 'artistic' and 'challenging' and have an alleged intellectual depth. Invariably, it won't be popular.
These days though, a new Metallica album is, in fact, also to be treated with caution! Recent releases have been - um - 'artistic', 'challenging' and have had an alleged new-found intellectual depth. Invariably, they aren't popular.
Having put 'Lulu' through a Metal Inquisition and tightened the thumbscrews on this bizarre experiment, it's fair to say that I think this is very much a Lou Reed record. Metallica have done a fair job of creating an audio landscape for his poetic gushing, but the lyrics and delivery by Reed is so dominant that it's easy to overlook Metallica's contribution. As such, if you're a fan of Lou Reed, this is another great challenging artistic piece with hidden depths. I'm sure it will win a Grammy or find favour with pseudo-intellectuals who enjoy alternative sounds.
If you're Metallica fan, I'd suggest you don't put yourself through the torment of this record. There's little here for thrash fans and it's best viewed as an experiment and not a proper Metallica record. For those brave enough to take the 'Lulu' challenge - please post your comments below or on the MetalTalk.net Facebook page! For me - it's a thumbs down. It's not an album I'd ever listen to under any circumstances, but credit to Metallica for trying something new. However, Anthrax and Megadeth have both been busy in the studio proving that their 1980s success was no fluke. Megadeth's previous two albums have been outstanding and Anthrax's 'Worship Music' is easily one of the albums of the year. The question must be asked why on earth Metallica aren't able to find a similar vein of form? They certainly seem to have time on their hands to showcase their talents with Lou Reed.
Listen to whole album: