An artist creates art and then puts it out there for the whole world to judge. It has to be incredibly difficult to spend hours/days/months/years working on something, only to have some obnoxious critic rip it to shreds. All that duly noted, the new collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, Lulu, is astoundingly awful.
Sure, I was skeptical of the pairing before I even heard a note. And this is from a fan of both Reed and Metallica. I revere Lou’s work with the Velvet Underground and his solo material right through the late ’80s/early ’90s; his album New York was a gritty and enjoyable celebration of the grime of 1989 NYC.
And I love early Metallica up to 1991’s self-titled (aka The Black Album) release, when they hit it massively big and started a downhill slide in the ’90s as they attempted a stylistic shift from thrash metal to a heavier version of alt-rock. But Metallica seemed to be moving back to the heavy fast shit with 2008’s Death Magnetic, which echoed the sound of classic ass-kickers like “Master of Puppets.”
Still, it just seemed like a weird pairing. The roots of Lulu lie in Metallica’s unexpected team-up with Reed at the Rock Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009. Metallica was inducted and celebrated by performing with different vocalists including Reed, Ray Davies and Ozzy Osbourne. It didn’t bowl me over, but I thought Metallica backing Reed on “Sweet Jane” and “White Light/White Heat” was decent enough.
But I had a feeling this would suck. So when the first preview of the Loutallica album came out with a streaming embed of “The View,” I admit I had low expectations. It could have been the advance press that spelled out the concept of the album, which, according to the Guardian adapts “the story of Lulu, a turbulent morality tale told across two plays–Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) written by the German expressionist playwright Frank Wedekind at the turn of the 20th century.” Pretentious much? Still, I like pompous stuff like Rush’s 2112, so maybe this would be good in its own way.
I was way too optimistic. The album, available for streaming in its entirety now, is much worse than I could have imagined. Reed in his inimitable speak-singing style atonally recites Lulu-inspired lines (“spermless like a girl,” “would you top me off while I deepen my curtsy”) while Metallica thrashes away in the background, James Hetfield tossing in the occasionally signature growl every so often. And when Reed does try to sing, his vocals make the first week rejects on “American Idol” sound like Sinatra.
Metallica brings the generic metal bluster but not much else. It doesn’t help matters that the songs drag on forever, with two clocking in at over 8 minutes, two over 11 minutes and the album closer, “Junior Dad,” timed at 19:29. Apparently nobody wanted to tell these guys when to stop.
It’s all very artsy and lofty in concept, but this pastiche of spoken word and crunch just doesn’t work together. The Rollins Band pulled off this sort of thing much more effectively 20 years ago on The End of Silence, combining scarily batshit spoken word (“I’VE GOT DIAMONDS IN MY EYEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!”) with skull-crushing rock on songs like “Just Like You.”
I admire the willingness of Reed and Metallica to try something outside their respective comfort zones, but somebody should have stepped in at some point and pulled the plug on this thing. Just because you can collaborate doesn’t always mean you should.