November 7, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
The history books will read something like this: Sometime in 2009, Metallica and Lou Reed (of Velvet Underground fame) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame based on former glories long past. To stay relevant they decide to make an album together. The world reeled back in horror,And cover was a mannequin in a wig with no arms.
‘Lulu’ is an album, or at a lengthy 95 minutes, a marathon of songs based on the plays of Frank Wedekind, a German playwright from the early 20th Century. On paper, it’s a mix of two legends from different disciplines of music coming together. In reality, it’s more a creepy uncle ranting over metallic demo tapes.
The danger is here to give a knee-jerk reaction, to say it’s shit because it is so easy. Or go the other way and defend it as art. The critical response has not been kind, even the people defending it agree it’s a bit shit. Some will say it’s good like an album like this can be made and released widely in days when Gaga, Rhianna and Tiny Tempah rule the world. In a way that’s true, musical diversity should be encouraged, but even diversity and experimentation need limits.
Opening with ‘Brandenburg Gate’, the main fault with ‘Lulu’ is exposed. It sounds like two different songs played over the top of one another. The band play an upbeat acoustic number while Reed rants out of tune and out of time over the top. ‘The View’ is probably the most cohesive out of the lot, although ‘Dragon’ eventually seems to come together some six minutes in. A lot of reviews have talked about the oil and water nature of the results, and that’s a fairly accurate description. ‘Mistress Dead’ is a relentless ‘Kill Em All’ thrash beat that wears thin after seven minutes, While ‘Pumping Blood’ is a chugging number that lumbers for another seven minutes, with neither leaving any sort of impression. For every minute with a passible riff or passage, there’s another minute (usually two or three) that it goes on for too long with Reed warbling over the top.
Alot of Metallica fans will get angry at this whether or not they’ve listened to it. The first thirty-second sample of ‘The View’ was enough to think it might lose in a popularity contest with Hitler and Syphilis. They’ve been tested enough since the days of ‘Load’ and want some creative consistency, and it’s quite possible the mere idea of Lulu has pushed them over the edge.
But you’ve got to admit, Metallica have balls. You have to admire their total disregard for their fan-base, it takes guts to make an album they knew (and if they didn’t- Seek help Lars) the fans would hate. And it’s worth taking note that Megadeth’s ‘Th1rt3en’ is released on the same day, and the different approaches they’ve taken. Megadeth have spent most of their career giving fans what they want and had a strict quality control while Metallica have essentially released every musical fart they’ve recorded in the last 20 years.
I have to admit I don’t know a lot about Lou Reed, purveyor of all things Arty and avant-garde (a dangerous by-word for self-indulgent bollocks), I know he was in The Velvet Underground, and as far as I can determine he has spent a career taking the piss and calling it art. For his part, there’s plenty if lyrics about sex, tits, violation and all sorts of other nasty shit. His voice is shaky and tuneless. Less art, more like some sort of soundtrack to do some nasty deeds to unsuspecting people who live nearby. It’s uninspiring at best, and just sad at worst, but my biggest problem with it how conservative masses panic about every metal album with some slightly odd-looking (but essentially nice) chaps on the cover, but this gets national advertising? Doesn’t make sense to me.
Reed is the problem here. I’ve always taken the stance that vocals are as important to the effect of an album as the guitars or drums, maybe even more so. (How many metal bands would be bigger if they had a clean singer?) And if this was a Metallica album, I’d say it’d have the potential (with a bit of trimming) to be excellent. For them this was a big jam, and shows a band musically on fire, and provide a backbone that makes this far more listenable than if it was a Reed solo attempt.
Maybe a collaboration with Nick Cave would’ve been a better choice. He’s a quality dark poet, and Metallica have shown they can work with his music on their cover of ‘Loverman’. Hope you’re taking notes Lars, this is good advice. Collaborations with musicians outside the safety-net of your musical sphere is a dangerous game. Chris Cornell had to reform Soundgarden to get the fans to forgive him for joining forces with Timbaland on ‘Scream’. Quite what Hetfield & Co. (does anyone care what Reed does?) will have to do is anyone’s guess, although Lou Reed admitting ‘Tallica fans want him dead might be a hint.
How it will be looked at in years to come is hard to say, but bets are on not well. but at least bob rock can finally rest easy now he knows he isn’t responsible for Metallica’s worst album. Hal Willner is now the unlucky bearer of that albatross. Worth a listen, even for curiosity sake, but be warned, 95 minutes is a long time that you will not get back.