METALLICA — Lulu (with Lou Reed) (review)

METALLICA — Lulu (with Lou Reed) album cover Album · 2011 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Vim Fuego
Metallica fans hate the fuck out of “Lulu”, and if it were a genuine Metallica album, this would be fully justified. I mean, take a look at it.

It’s a high concept album, based on two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind, which in turn was turned into mostly spoken word poetry by Lou Reed, a man whose musical career is a real world embodiment of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. And the whole album is basically Reed droning on over some very bare bones music, which sounds like rough, rejected Metallica riffs from various times between 1984 and 1994. Any album which starts with a 69-year-old man channelling the spirit of a young girl drawling “I would cut my legs and tits off/When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski/In the dark of the moon” isn’t going to go down well with a crowd who are more used to albums kicking off with “Lashing out the action, returning the reaction/Weak are ripped and torn away” or “Do unto others as they have done unto you/But what in the hell is this world coming to?”

But that’s the biggest problem with “Lulu” right there. It’s NOT a Metallica album. It’s a Lou Reed album, with Metallica as his backing band. The writing credits are all Reed’s, with Metallica as collaborators, and the whole album sounds like it.

And back to the self-amputation of legs and tits. This is the lead-off track “Brandenburg Gate”. Instantly, it’s obvious it’s not Metallica, but rather Lou Reed strained through a Metallica filter. “The View” sounds like a cross between Hero of the Day and King Nothing, but for the vocal delivery and lyrics. “Pumping Blood” pumps like, well… a heart, which is a blood pump. And then it goes into a section which bears a slight resemblance to the introduction to Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing”.

“Mistress Dread” is an industrial loop freakout, the likes of which Metallica has never created before, repeating the same frantic (no not that fucking “Frantic”!) simplified stuck-record riff over and over, overlaid with drones and scrapes, and a depraved mistress caterwauling a missive to a lover over it. It’s the fastest thing Metallica has recorded since “Dyer’s Eve”.

“Iced Honey” bears striking similarities to Reed’s own “Sweet Jane”, and features his most tuneful vocal on the whole album. Musically, this wouldn’t have felt out of place on one of Metallica’s “Load” albums. The gentle intro to “Cheat On Me” sounds goes sour, and build into a brooding, throbbing self-examination.

There are a couple of quiet-ish songs which wander off into pointlessness. There seems to be little point to the self-flagellating “Little Dog”, and the minimalist “Dragon”. These are ambient spoken word tracks, until “Dragon” unexpectedly bursts into a full on rock track which wouldn’t have been out of place on the Black Album, except for Kirk Hammett’s schizophrenic lead guitar seizure. Reed’s vocals are some of his most aggressive and angriest on the whole album.

“Junior Dad” is a nineteen-and-a-half-minute marathon, which basically stretches a simple little rock ballad into a drawn-out ambient fade to musical oblivion, the last seven minutes seeming totally unnecessary, but hey, it was all part of Lou Reed’s vision, which the rest of us don’t need to understand.

Metallica exploded in the metal scene in the 1980s because they challenged the metal and musical establishment. Lou Reed, both as a solo artist and with the Velvet Underground, also challenged the musical establishment, but at a more fundamental level, even messing with the concept of what music actually is (see 1975’s “Metal Machine Music”). It seems that while Metallica were up for this deeper challenge, a lot of their fans weren’t. The obscure and emotionally confronting source material was perhaps too oblique for Metallica’s usual audience. “Lulu” isn’t easy to listen to. There are no songs of pure metal aggro, no comforting sing-along choruses, no searing solos, and very few big bollocked chugging riffs. “Lulu” delivers subtle new surprises every time you listen to it, but it seems it so alienated many listeners it won’t often get a second listen.

In essence, the biggest band in metal was reduced to the role of hired guns. Here it seemed they had surrendered creative control almost entirely to someone else, managing to throw in a few spontaneous studio jams, but otherwise totally in submissive bondage to Lou Reed’s ambiguous, androgynous vision. The lyrics and subject matter most certainly weren’t what the long-established team of Hefield/Ulrich would ever come up with. For example, what does “I puke my guts out at your feet/You’re more man than I/To be dead to have no feeling/To be dry and spermless like a girl” even mean? For a band usually in total control, it proved to be difficult to handle. Lars Ulrich was even called out by Reed at one point, challenging him to a street fight. Jason Newsted would have been entitled to have a bit of a chuckle at hearing this...

By 2011 when “Lulu” was released, Metallica was big enough that they could easily take risks like this collaboration and record an album which wasn’t a true Metallica album at it’s core, and the damage to their career would be minimal if it didn’t pay off. Lou Reed was long past caring what others thought of him, and understood the value of creating something just for the sake of creating it. His long-time friend David Bowie called it one of Reed’s greatest works, while Reed’s widow, electronica pioneer Laurie Anderson said “…this was really challenging, and I have a hard time with it.”

“Lulu” definitely didn’t pay off commercially, but it remains as a historic marker as to where the band, and a whimsical creative man, were at artistically and emotionally at this time.
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31 days ago
I don't know man - whether you accept this as a Metallica record or insist it's just a Lou Reed record (in which case I would propose it gets deleted from the site), it's ultimately the same music. They could have made this completely incognito with no name credited to it and it would still be boring.
adg211288 wrote:
32 days ago
Good review, nice to read an alternate point of view, although I'm afraid I haven't been inspired to give this album another chance.

My issue from a purely objective reviewer's perspective when this came out was that even though I knew it should probably be looked at as a Lou Reed album I was writing for metal websites whose community was most likely more interested in Metallica. So I kinda felt like I had to review it from the point of view that it was a Metallica album.

siLLy puPPy wrote:
32 days ago
I'm on the hate it side. I've tried to give this a fair shake but it just plain s-u-c-k-s!!!! I'll take St Anger any day over this but don't get me wrong, Metallica basically lost me after The Black Album.

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