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Unsolicited Lou Reed & Metallica Lulu Review

Lou Reed & Metallica
Warner Bros.

Even though this strange collaboration was Lou Reed’s idea—he thought Metallica would be the perfect band to help breathe life into his tribute to Euro playwright Frank Wedekind—Lulu will forever be known as “that Metallica record with Lou Reed on it,” not vice versa, because Metallica’s sales figures are astronomical even when they aren’t being compared to that of former Velvet Undergrounders. If the heavy metal behemoths were smart, they would have played on Lulu anonymously. Honestly, what’s Metallica getting out of this project aside from another opportunity to embarrass themselves? Has it really been their dream all along to help indie rock’s Australopithecus ride the lightening? The only thing Lou Reed’s riding is his giant check to the friggin’ bank.

Metalli-fans have been pretty forgiving over the years, but smart money says the last thing your average Master of Puppets worshipper wants to hear is an album of bone-crushing riffage augmented by a senior citizen flatly reciting spoken word drivel about male sex workers and their own mountain of self-hatred. The Marianne Faithful/Metallica duet from the mid-nineties was one thing—that song (in which the elder Faithful really only hummed) was, what, three minutes and some change? Lulu pushes an hour and a half, a feature film-length musical frown that generally doesn’t seem to have an agenda beyond aggravating people who wore Slayer-stamped denim jackets in 1987. Take opener “Bradenburg Gate,” which begins with the following Lou mumblings over the gentle strains of an acoustic guitar:

“I would cut my legs and tits off
When I think of Boris Karloff
And Kinski
In the dark of the moon…”

Seconds later, the crushing hard rock of Metallica comes in, and it would really be something if singer James Hetfield wasn’t repeatedly bellowing the barely in-context phrase “Small town girl!” while Lou continues ranting only semi-coherently. At first, “Brandenburg Gate” seems like it might be a test wherein Loutallica has purposely front-loaded their album with something way beyond the pale so as to weed out close-minded mouth-breathers. Then the rest of Lulu unfolds, and this Boris Karloff tit-lopping song proves absolutely fitting.

The cruel Catch-22 with this album is that many of the interesting and adventurous devices Metallica employ (excessive feedback, droning keyboards, Bill Ward-style percussion) probably couldn’t/wouldn’t have been facilitated without Lou Reed, and yet our groovy refreshed Metallica is completely torpedoed by the aged underground legend as he warbles for the majority of Lulu in a most atonal manner laughable phrases like “if I waggle my ass like a dog prostitute” and “[something something] a colored man’s dick.” Twenty years ago, when Lou Reed was a scant fifty and still retained some of that Velvety touch, Lulu could have proved a chocolate and peanut butter combination. As it stands, this is chocolate and stale Metamucil.

There are moments where Loutallica comes within a football field of gelling. In an alternate universe, “Iced Honey” achieves its goal of being a successful Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers tribute despite its obvious stiffness; I can see Mick Jagger peacocking around to the “See if the ice will melt for you-ah!” chorus that Lou and James take turns shitting out. “Little Dog” and “Dragon” both have hypnotizing, hymnal qualities—particularly the former in its restrained quiet—not unlike the spate of material Johnny Cash recorded just before he died. That said, it would be surprising if even one of the aforementioned songs ends up on a Lou Reed or Metallica career retrospective collection any time before Earth is destroyed by a flaming meteorite the size of Russia.

Lulu’s final track, “Junior Dad,” is a twenty minute journey into the psychological chasm that separates a man from his child. The main guitar riff is an arpeggio that sounds bittersweet, as if it feels some resentment about being included in a song that’s four times longer than “Bohemian Rhapsody.” No, there is no reason “Junior Dad” has to last twenty minutes (the final quarter is just a heap of shameless heart-tugging violins), but there was also no reason Lou Reed and Metallica had to make a record together. And yet they did.

It may be one of pop music’s most frustrating and frustratingly inexplicable exercises, an album that will indeed take Generation Y’s core concept of ironic enjoyment to dark and painful places, but at least Lulu doesn’t force us to suffer the unforgivable sin of mediocrity. A new benchmark has been set. This is the aural stain rock fans will knowingly smirk about for the next decade until we’re given another Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity…but what a point of reference.

FINAL SCORE: One atonal gender-bending legend (out of four).