Posted on October 31st, 2011 (1:24 pm) by Joseph Bogen

Did anyone besides Lou Reed and Metallica actually think this was a good idea? I’m sure there are people out there that like both artists, but I haven’t met them. And Metallica is just a poor fit for Reed’s music. Part of what has made Lou Reed’s music so exciting is his eclectic sonic approach, but for Lulu, he’s stuck with a band that has only one sound: loud and distorted. Even without Metallica, I’d be worried about this album. Lulu is a concept album based on two plays from the late 19th century by Frank Wedekin. That’s what worried me most. Anyone remember Reed’s most recent studio album, The Raven? Odds are not many of you do since it was generally terrible. It was also a concept album, and it was mostly a disaster. Reed has pulled off concept albums before (Berlin and New York), but they’re resounding disasters, and his later albums have been the most successful when they have been the least constrained. Add the further constraint of playing heavy metal to the mix and Lulu seemed like the perfect recipe for an unmitigated catastrophe.

“Brandenburg Gate” opens the album on a promising note--i.e. one that doesn’t sound at all like Metallica. Lou Reed opens the song with nothing accompanying him besides acoustic guitar. But Metallica jumps in quickly, bland distortion and heavy drums and all. And James Hetfield even gets to sing, chanting “small town girl!” behind Reed’s verses. This shouldn’t be any good, but it actually is. Sure, the guitars are pretty metal, but Metallica is basically playing a solid country-rock riff, and everyone seems to be having a hell of a time with it. But “The View” does as much as possible to erase any enthusiasm “Brandenburg Gate” built. The song is little more than a bland chugging metal riff with Lou Reed sing-talking on top of it. Hetfield’s vocals fit a bit better with the music, but when he sings a few lines, it does nothing to save this disaster. Why this was picked as the album’s first sample track is beyond me.

Thankfully, Reed and Metallica begin to fit a little better on “Pumping Blood.” Reed’s vocals still feel strangely detached from the music, but the instrumentation finally evolves beyond one bland metal riff. When “Mistress Dread” roars to life with a propulsive beat, the album seems to be gaining some real life--then is quickly dampened when Reed begins to sing. His vocals just don’t fit with heavy metal at all. However, on “Iced Honey,” it’s Metallica’s one-guitar-sound-fits-all approach that’s a poor fit for the music. “Iced Honey” sounds like your typical late-career Reed song, except instead of merely finding some competent backing musicians, he’s playing with fucking Metallica. But even though it’s sometimes painfully clear they’re a poor fit, I still find myself enjoying the song.

After “Iced Honey,” there isn’t a single song on here that clocks in at less than 8 minutes. And three of the next five are over 10. “Cheat On Me” opens with some very un-Metallica strings, organ and droning guitars before Reed begins to sing while being accompanied by Metallica’s most restrained playing yet. The song settles into a steady groove with a pretty consistent “why do I cheat on me” refrain shared by both Reed and Hetfield. It’s not perfect, but it’s the first time Reed and Metallica really seem to be on the same page. After that, however, disc two opens with “Frustration,” where Reed and Metallica sound poorly matched again, except that in between metal riffs we get screeching violins. But then Metallica fades entirely into the background for “Little Dog” as if to remind us that they’re not responsible for this mess.

There's no need to distance yourself from an album with a song like “Junior Dad.” In some ways this is the most baffling track of the entire album. It’s nearly 20 minutes long, and for the first three minutes you’d never guess that Metallica was the backing group. And even when the guitars get louder, they still sound right at home with Reed and the accompanying strings. Reed also delivers his best vocal performance of the album, making this the album’s clear highlight. Unfortunately, it ends with an unnecessary and excessive ten minute drone detracting from the song’s achievements.

Ultimately, this album isn’t quite the train wreck that I feared. There are some genuinely awful moments like “The View,” but rarely is the album that cringe-inducing. Fans of Reed that hate this album are likely to lay the blame at Metallica’s feet, but that would be unfair. They may be the wrong band for most of this music, but they at least gave this album some recognizable melodies and energy. Reed meanwhile, seems content to recite his poetry while giving Metallica very little to work with. When they are on the same page, the results are good, not as strong as Reed’s solo albums of the 90s, but good enough. Maybe Reed thought that if he teamed up with successful, established band, he’d have to do less work, but it just doesn’t work that way. Maybe Reed never could have made a great album with Metallica. I have my doubts. But he never really tried, and that’s what makes this album a drag.

Track List:

1. Brandenburg Gate
2. The View
3. Pumping Blood
4. Mistress Dread
5. Iced Honey
6. Cheat on Me
7. Frustration
8. Little Dog
9. Dragon
10. Junior Dad

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

59 / 100
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