I tried. I honestly tried to listen to ‘Lulu’ with an open mind and to appreciate the partnership of two very different purveyors of rock music. Not merely two distinct artists, but two critically and commercially successful Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees with over 75 years of musical experience between them. I couldn’t do it though. I just do not “get” this album. Maybe that’s my loss, maybe I am lacking when it comes to appreciating true art, but I have a nagging suspicion that this album will never be remembered as a good idea, at least in the minds of Metallica fans.
At least this is not a true Metallica album. I want to get that out of the way right now. This album doesn’t belong next to ‘Master of Puppets,’ ‘Metallica’ (aka the “black album”) and ‘Death Magnetic.’ This is Metallica collaborating with Lou Reed to produce music that is unlike anything else in their catalog. Metallica themselves have repeatedly gone on record stating that this is not the next Metallica album. In fact, Reed had already written all of the songs for this album; Metallica came in later and provided some musical muscle. They are not the only musicians on ‘Lulu’ either; indeed, there are nine other performers credited on this album. However, while I truly doubt that this collaboration between metal’s biggest band of all time and an avant-garde East coast rock poet was ever highly anticipated by any metal fans, I’m sure everyone was at least curious as to how it turned out. Well, you can find out for yourself when ‘Lulu’ is released on November 1, but if I was a gambler, I’d bet the whole kitty that unless you really, really like Lou Reed, you will despise this album.
This was just not a good fit. Then again, did anyone besides Metallica and Lou Reed really think it would be? Just because Reed recorded an album called ‘Metal Machine Music’ (a double album of nothing but guitar feedback) in 1975 doesn’t mean he knows anything about the metal genre.
It was pretty much over for me less than one minute into the album’s opener, “Brandenburg Gate.” Hearing James Hetfield croon “Small town girl” over and over again, while strumming an acoustic guitar, is not something I ever want to hear again. But then Reed starts in with his trademark talking-singing, going on about cutting his legs off while thinking about Boris Karloff in the light of the moon, or something like that! It’s an odd song–like every other song on ‘Lulu,’ admittedly–but an even odder choice for an album opener, since it’s a mid-tempo rocker and Metallica never gets a chance to cut loose.
Some of you have probably already heard “The View,” which was leaked a couple weeks ago. It’s one of the better songs, with a pretty heavy riff, and at the 3:45 mark, when Hetfield takes over vocals, the track gets pretty good, especially when he ominously growls “I ammmmm!!!!” Hammett’s solo at the end is pretty good too.
Reed’s “singing” starts getting really old by the third song, “Pumping Blood.” It sounds like Matlock wandered into Metallica’s studio and started muttering gibberish into a microphone while the band was rehearsing. The song does get pretty thrashy at the end though. It even sounds like ‘…And Justice for All’-era Metallica. If only the entire song sounded as great as the end did!
The best song here is probably “Mistress Dread.” Musically, it actually sounds similar to Metallica’s debut album, ‘Kill ‘Em All,’ until Reed ruins the vibe with that terrible singing of his. “Iced Honey” is another lighter song. I could see this being released as a single. It’s also the shortest song here, at just a little over four and a half minutes long.
The last four songs are all really long epics, however, and it’s here where the album really drags. “Cheat On Me” is a very long song, 11 and a half minutes long as a matter of fact. It starts off with a mellow intro featuring a lot of stringed instruments, and it never picks up the pace. It’s a yawner. It’s even harder to sit through “Frustration.” It’s over eight and a half minutes of Reed’s inane poetry, which was too much for me to take. What’s really frustrating (pun definitely intended) is that during the last two minutes of the song, an insanely heavy riff pops up. It sounds a lot like ‘Master of Reality’-era Black Sabbath. I’d love to hear this riff in an official Metallica song instead of here.
“Little Dog” is another very mellow song. I don’t think Lars Ulrich even plays drums on this song. “Dragon” is waaaaay out there (you need to listen to Reed’s lyrics on this one, guys!) but it also contains a great solo by Hammett, which reminded me of his solo on the seminal song “The Thing That Should Not Be.” But to hear Reed talking about hairy shoulders and smelly armpits… I just don’t get it!
The album FINALLY ends with “Junior Dad.” Unfortunately, it’s by far the longest song, clocking in at a whopping 19:29, and it goes absolutely nowhere. Honestly, it sounds like the string section of an orchestra warming up for 20 excruciatingly long minutes. Good luck staying awake until the end of this song!
I wonder if Lou Reed fans will like this. This isn’t the first time he’s recorded an experimental album (the above-mentioned ‘Metal Machine Music’) after all. However, I feel comfortably secure saying that well over 90% of Metallica fans will utterly loathe this. I consider myself a very open-minded metal fan too. I love Morbid Angel’s new techno-influenced album (read my review here); I loved Kiss’ disco song “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”; I loved Slayer’s collaboration with Ice-T; I even kind of liked Ozzy Osbourne’s duet with Miss Piggy on a Muppets album. But this… I just can’t get into it.
And yet, this actually gives me hope that Metallica’s next album will be great. Like I said, there are some great riffs here, and a few isolated moments of balls-out thrash metal. If the band can channel some of that ferocity and rage into a new album, we’ll have another Metallica masterpiece on our hands.
Lou Reed and Metallica got the idea to work together back in 2009, after performing together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary celebration concert. Ozzy Osbourne was there too. Why couldn’t Metallica have collaborated on an album with him? Just think what that would’ve sounded like!