Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu
Posted by Chris Kopcow
Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu
It’s hard to know what to expect when first delving into Lulu, the 2011 collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica. Taking into account everything Reed has released and recorded during his career—from his infamous noise experiment, Metal Machine Music, to a few new age relaxation records to a collaboration with the Killers—this project could have turned into virtually anything. And since Metallica are known more for their arena-filling metal than their artistic exploration, they seem like a strange match for Reed, at odds with his outré flights of fancy. But just a couple minutes into the album, two things become clear: Metallica are a strange match for Reed, and this is a strange album, even by Reed’s standards. And it should be said that though Metallica receive equal billing on Lulu, this is clearly Reed’s vision all the way, since it’s doubtful Metallica would mastermind something this warped without some guidance.
But what is Lulu like? Loosely based off a series of plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind about a girl-turned-prostitute, the album is a series of pounding, heavy jams accompanied by Reed reciting (and sometimes singing) poetry. By itself, this doesn’t sound too bad, yet the reason why Lulu is such a ponderous, punishing listen is all in its execution. Though Metallica play with expected dexterity and professionalism throughout (even when exploring experimental textures on the second half), each song simply goes on and on and on, way after the music has ceased to be interesting. Of the ten tracks here, only three of them clock in below six minutes, and many are much, much longer. Naturally, some of the tighter tracks are more tolerable: “Iced Honey” and “Brandenburg Gate” at least try and get out quick after their musical ideas have washed up, but even on these, very little of the music leaves a distinct impression. Lou Reed’s words, on the other hand, read decently enough on paper, at least as far as ugly, violent, erotic poetry goes. But his disjointed, drunken delivery makes his words lose any and all power they may have had and causes the record to seem like a eyebrow-raising mess. Not only is his raspy, aging voice a complete mismatch with Metallica’s guitar attack but Reed rarely even speaks in time with the music, as if he is unaware of the musical backing track at all. The effect is as if you opened up a video of Metallica performing in concert and a separate video of Lou Reed performing a spoken word piece and just played them over each other. It’s all just so tiring, and with a nearly ninety-minute album, it quickly becomes bewildering.
There are a few rewarding moments on the record, like when “Pumping Blood” seems to actually achieve the intensity it craves (albeit for a very short amount of time), but the listener has to gauge whether wading through the muck in order to find these moments is even worth it. Though each song may have isolated moments like this, only on the gargantuan twenty-minute closer, “Junior Dad,” does everything fall into place. Slow and understated, not only does Metallica show remarkable restraint when crafting a groove but Reed dispenses his words with the right timing and tone, never detracting from the overall flow. Even this track is about seven minutes too long, however, perfectly summing up a record that’s mired by overindulgence.
Lulu is not a failure in the way bad albums usually are: It’s such a spectacularly strange beast that it’s sort of fascinating despite itself, even though few will have the patience for it. In short, it’s the stuff cults are made of, so don’t be surprised if the record garners a small, dedicated group of supporters at some point down the line. The biggest question that remains is why it exists at all. Clearly as an album of avant-garde metal—especially the kind that would have been better off played by the likes of, say, Sunn O)))—this wasn’t a commercial endeavor. Instead, it was likely done for the fun of it, though “fun” by no means describes any part of this venture. Then again, for a group of aging metalheads, this may be how they get their kicks.