Thursday, November 3, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Lou Reed and Metallica - LuLu

By Josh Custodio

Lulu is a collaboration album by Lou Reed and Metallica. Yes, you read that correctly: Lou Reed and Metallica. After playing a song together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary concert, Reed brought up the idea of creating an album together. Everybody was on board and the recording of LuLu began. But who are these artists separately?

Lou Reed is a rock icon, best known for his work as part of the art-rock pioneers Velvet Underground. Reed is often praised for his haunting lyrics and his unique delivery. His baritone sing-speak is unmistakable and often mimicked. Post-Velvet Underground, Reed had a successful solo career that spawned hits such as “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day."

Metallica, on the other hand, is generally credited for bringing metal music to the mainstream.
They are vanguards of heavy music and have some legendary songs under their belts (“Master of Puppets”, “Enter Sandman”,” Nothing Else Matters”). When you hear double-kicks or machine gun riffs in some song, Metallica is ultimately the band to thank.

So how does this improbable and seemingly impossible coupling sound? In a word:forced.
By and large, these songs sound like overblown Metallic songs with Lou Reed growling over top
of them. It is difficult to find something redeeming about this album. Every track seems like it would be better suited for the artists to do separately, rather than together. The artists force their music together like a child would force the triangle block through the square hole. For example, the lead single, “The View”, has the vocals so loud in the mix that it sounds like Reed is doing spoken word poetry overtop of a B-side Metallica song. If someone were to show me this and tell me that it was parody music, I would believe them.

Collaboration CDs can be a rewarding adventure, especially if the artists have crossover fans.
Placing unquestionably talented musicians in a studio and having them push each other creatively is a great idea. It was done earlier this year on the Jay-Z and Kanye West joint CD, Watch the Throne. Their collaboration makes sense to me, given that they have many of the same fans and share a similar style. On Watch the Throne both artists benefitted from the other’s presence. On LuLu everyone loses. Metallica and Lou Reed sound unwilling to change, trying to force their personal styles into these songs.

This all said, I suppose I’m not overly surprised by this result since both of these artists have
a history of giving the middle finger to their fans. In 2000, Metallica, a band that had preached a rock and roll attitude for nearly 20 years, lawyered up and sued illegal music sharing website, Napster. At the time, this boggled many people, why did the already-rich Metallica need to clamp down on their music spreading to more fans? I can understand the fiscal reasons, but it is interesting, given that a large part of Metallica’s success comes from their early fans passing around bootleg tapes.

In a similar style, in 1975, Reed released Metal Machine Music. This album had
no lead single of which to judge it by and it was released while Reed was predominantly known as an art-rock musician. Metal Machine Music was a one hour long album of guitar feedback. People were outraged when they discovered that rather than songs, or anything resembling music, they had just purchased a disc of noise. Fuck you, indeed.

Lulu is not as offensively bad as Metal Machine Music. But it is still a bad CD. Not boring or
harmless, but actively bad. I can’t imagine a scenario where I would ever feel like listening to this. Worse yet, people are going to purchase this en masse, simply because they will see Metallica on the cover. I feel bad for fans of either artist who blindly purchase this album, thinking that it will be akin to a release from either of these artists. Their result winds up being as misshapen and ugly as Frankenstein’s monster, only without the redeemable core.

If there is any redemption to be found in this album, it would be in some of Reed’s lyrics. Certain lines manage to retain his inherent morbidity. With lines like “little dog who can’t get in, moaning from every limb”, I can’t help but wonder what these tracks might have sounded like with more standard Lou Reed music behind them. Kirk Hammett’s guitar talent also shines through at certain moments, like during the 20 minute (!) closer “Junior Dad,” but for the most part, there’s nothing too noteworthy in this album.

In its own way, it’s a fascinating album, in a “Are they serious?” kind of way. Like a car crash,
some of these songs managed to hold my attention, or rather, I find me hating myself for being unable to turn away.

Make no mistake though, LuLu is a fail in every way possible. Your money is better spent on any other album this year. It simply sounds too forced to be worth listening to; it’s the equivalent of a baker and a butcher trying to make a meal together and they end up with a cake made with steak, and the diner’s stomach hurts.