Music Reviews

Lou Reed & Metallica Lulu

(Vertigo) Rating - 4/10

“Loutallica,” “Reedtallica,” “Metallica Machine Music…” the jabs have been plentiful.  With Berlin and Metal Machine Music, Lou Reed is no stranger to critical dismay and its inevitable venom, the pen wielding malcontents and Velvets-loyalists mightier though subject to hindsight, which has generously applied a dab of white-out when required.  Metallica had been slowly re-Entering pre-Sandman territory, 2003’s St. Anger and 2008’s Death Magnetic their tarnished results which were laden with some promise through fumbled execution.  Aside from Metallica’s attempted re-acquaintance with its former might, the band has toyed with a symphony (S & M), documented some couple’s therapy (Some Kind of Monster) and made a Glee record (Garage Inc.). Metallica is now breathing through Lulu, an album of unreleased songs Reed had written for playwright Frank Wedekind’s production of the same name.   

Lulu is the type of strangeness that begs (dares) for immediate dismissal, the likelihood of the wrinkling, Warhol-ian Reed bringing the one-time dangerous and Jäger-toxic Alcoholica back into thrash metal relevance improbable.  I mean, sure: Metallica are kings of the genre, metal royalty and the band’s throne is in no danger of being usurped.  But, the “EET FUK,” “Metal up your ass!” quartet, energized through the violent use of musical equipment, seems no more. 

As far as Lou Reed goes, he’s Lou Reed: He’s either going to be amazing or awful, but he gave the world Sweet Jane and White Light/White Heat, so all will go his way.  Even Lulu won’t cost Reed any sleep.  Likely, Lulu will stand eventually as an obscure and criminally underappreciated instance of absolute genius in American pop music, its crime of ill-thought partnering overshadowing its true brilliance.  And, this’ll be bullshit, but hindsight…  white-out… etc.  Example?  See above references to Berlin and Metal Machine Music.

To its credit, though, Lulu does unintentionally boast a genius element.  Think of it as the court-ordered payday as aftermath to the accidental death of a loved one.  Or, think of it as the pile of shit you inspect after almost stepping into it.  There’s something to marvel at with Lulu, Reed’s rambling nonsense and excessive repetition inappropriately forced on top of what might be some of the tightest playing Metallica’s done in years.  Call it a study in ill-thought juxtaposition, pretentious prattling set against misspent energy.  Yes, James Hetfield blurts out, “I AM THE TABLE!” during the album’s first single The View.  He’s apparently “THE TABLET,” too.  And “The ROOT.”  And he says he’s “THE PROGRESS,” too, but he probably hadn’t heard the completed song yet so I won’t hold that against him.  Besides, Reed is apparently “a chorus of the voices that gather up the magnets set before me.”   Next to that, it’s much cooler to be the table.

But, I don’t want to completely trash the effort.  In all honesty, it’s been a difficult album to dissect, though that’s no reflection on Reed who is mostly bad.  Accommodating Reed’s Beat-flavored delivery, the band tries to improv with thrash-jazz for Pumping Blood, which is essentially Metallica playing like they would during a sound-check.  His voice is cold and just strange when he tries to coax something emotive.  But, Pumping Blood and Mistress Dread are both awesome and horrible at the same time, paradoxically fucking with the paradigm of good, bad and in-between.  Up until Lulu, I didn’t think it was possible to be both enamored and disgusted at the same time.  Mind?  Blown.

Iced Honey, though?  It sounds like William Shatner singing Metallica's version of Whiskey in the Jar.  Despite the performers’ momentary lapses into the truly avant-garde, (an observation that already requires an open mind and a ton of forgiveness), when they drop the ball, that fucker falls hard.  Cheat On Me is 11 and a-half minutes of Reed and Hetfield asking, “Why do I cheat?  On me?”  Playing with syllabic emphasis by the way, that’s how you get the same words to take on different emotional qualities over eleven minutes, especially when you can’t really sing anymore.

And there’s this stream of consciousness Reed employs for Little Dog that comes across like some perverse Jim Morrison-saturated self-importance.  “Puny body and a tiny dick/A little dog can make you sick.”  His unapologetic reliance on vulgarity just seems gratuitous and distracting, especially when he talks of “prick-less lovers” and being “dry and sperm-less… like a girl” during Frustration.  His most telling observation, and granted I’m taking liberty with the context, is this: 

“I drop to my knees in a second and salivate in your thighs…” 

This is Lulu in Reed’s mind.

“… but all I do is fall over.”

This is Lulu to the rest of us.  After almost 90 minutes, Reed and Metallica’s final opus, Junior Dad, plays ballad-like and theatrical, closing out the album with stringed instruments, some symphonic arrangement and a sense of the epic closer.  Reed gently sings, “The greatest disappointment/Age withered him and changed him…”  A million head shake “yes” and throw on Master Of Puppets.