By at 5:43 AM Friday, October 28th 2011


Metallica & Lou Reed’s ‘Lulu’ Is An Irredeemable Mess

Metallica, Reviews


When news first broke that Lou Reed & Metallica joined forces for a project, the public reaction was mixed between confusion and skepticism. While both artists have had their shares of great success in the past, their music styles are obviously disparate, and it was understandably difficult to picture a combination of them possibly sounding good enough to warrant an entire LP. Now that the double-album Lulu is out, the fears and doubts regarding its quality have been, unfortunately, solidified.

The first single from Lulu, entitled The View, had already garnered hatred from listeners, and in the context of the album, it pretty much shows all the things that went horribly wrong  with it. First and foremost, Lou Reed doesn’t sing – he never really has – he basically reads the lyrics to the song, in an often emotionless delivery. While this style has worked in his solo career (and in his glory days with The Velvet Underground), here, backed by Metallica, it sounds instantly unsettling. The heavy metal provided by the band is as inappropriate to Reed’s non-singing as any random musical genre you can imagine, and the juxtaposition of both styles is downright laughable in several spots. The fact that metal and Lou Reed don’t match becomes quickly noticeable, and only becomes more blatantly obvious as Lulu goes on.

Take Mistress Dead, for instance, which is probably the clearest, most basic example of the poor combination of styles. While Metallica play a standard riff that might as well be the dictionary definition of “thrash metal”, Reed moans his usually weird, graphic lyrics, “I wish there was a strap of blood / That you could kiss away / Tie me with a scarf and jewels / Put a bloody gag to my teeth“. And yet, neither element sounds like it belongs to the same song, at any given point, as if both parties were competing to see who could move the further away from a stylistic crossroads. The fact that the instrumentation shows about as little variation as the vocal performance, doesn’t help either. The results, while not always ridiculous, still fail to demonstrate why this collaboration ever sounded like a good idea.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t moments where small hints of actual chemistry pop up. On a few cuts, Metallica deviate from their usual brand of metal, and approach something more akin to Reed’s previous solo work. Iced Honey, one of only two tracks that don’t go over five minutes here, contains proper rock arrangements that fit Reed’s voice more appropriately, he makes an effort to actually sing – though within his limitations. James Hetfield helps out on the singing during the chorus, hitting the notes that Reed obviously can’t, and, surprisingly, the song goes by without any embarrassments.

Cheat On Me, which follows, also features Hetfield on vocals, to an even greater effect. After an atmospheric start with dissonant string arrangements and distorted guitars, the song takes form with a relatively slow beat, and Reed does another performance that doesn’t sound alien to the music. As it progresses and gets heavier, Hetfield begins to share vocal duties with Reed, sometimes even taking the forefront, avoiding the stylistic disparity that plagues so much else on this record. Also due to some great riffing, Cheat On Me winds up as a highlight, and shows a mold that could have been adopted on more songs.

Unfortunately, even on those moments where it seems like the project might take flight, they’re still merely less discomforting than the many, many disappointingly bad musical choices made here. Any hope gained from the two tracks mentioned above is quickly dissolved by Frustration, which returns to the unfortunate combination of heavy metal and spoken word. To make matters worse, it features a mid-section with nothing but Reed and drum fills by Lars Ulrich, in something that dangerously resembles Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey. The balladry of closing track Junior Dad, tacky as it may be, comes as a relief, but its ten minutes of string arrangements inevitably serve for the listener to raise several questions about what the hell just happened during the past hour and a half.

Lulu is extremely hard to recommend, and even harder to find out who to recommend it for. Fans of Reed might be able to enjoy his lyrics on some level, for they are, if anything, easily identifiable – there’s the song where he begs to be degraded and eat waste, the one where he yells “JACK” about fifty times, the one where he’s “spermless like a girl”, and, of course, the one where James Hetfield is a table. Alas, little does the poetry matter if the music doesn’t hold up.

As for the four musicians’ contributions, they’re far from impressive, but never get as embarrassing as some of their least-inspired Load/Reload/St. Anger cuts. While James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar is the driving force most of the time, Kirk Hammett barely gets any chance to shine, as there are disappointingly few solos here. Lars Ulrich continues his strength-over-versatility drumming approach, arguably the least appealing aspect of the group for many years now, and Robert Trujillo’s bass remains practically buried in the mix. Sometimes, It’s almost as if the group decided to hold back, and not waste any good riffs here. Except that’s really not the case here, as evidenced by the members themselves.

Metallica, already fully aware of the hatred Lulu was getting, have already stated that it indicates what their future studio work might sound like. With that in mind, it’s also frightening that every party involved shows so much confidence in the quality of this material. Interview after interview, they demonstrate nothing but complete investment into the project, and genuine belief that this is among their finest work. It’s disturbing to think that they don’t see anything wrong with this collaboration.

Metallica themselves are not the real mistake here, as they can still dish out decent thrash metal hooks, and on some occasions deviate from that style, producing arguably better results. The mistake was assuming that their particular brand of music would be a good fit for Lou Reed’s voice. Most of the time, Reed’s non-singing is too prominent for fans of Metallica to just enjoy the music, and, at the same time, the music can be too heavy for Reed’s fans, culminating in something that neither group of listeners can properly enjoy. Considering that this never sounded like much of a good idea to anyone, it’s not a huge loss.




Released: 1/11/2011
Label: Warner Bros.
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

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. boom says:

    I dig the album and am sorry that Lou is over your head.

    • Apologies accepted. I’m sure we’ll come to understand its brilliance if given enough ketamine & metamucil. We’re just not there yet. Be patient.

    • chad says:

      i’ve never listened to much of his music, so i can’t be a judge of its quality. but that comment is the perfect of example of why i’ve never put in much effort to do so.

  2. Al says:

    Hipsters will dig this.

  3. Pete says:

    This music sounds like a Monkey fucking a Goat.

  4. alex says:

    I stabbed my ears out with broken glass and poured 5 gallons of dog cum into the wounds before listening to it. I can report the album sounded much better after fucking my ears right up.

  5. Cody Lamie says:

    never thought id see the day when korn makes a better mashup album than metallica and lou reed

  6. zobi says:

    sad indeed….the music isn’t all that bad and the spontaneity of it is refreshing but it’s too much of a mess to enjoy, great and clear review!

  7. 56Century says:

    It sounds like Metallica rehearsing with one of their Dad’s on vocals. Have they not learnt by now their “experiments” never work? Newsted must be very happy with his decision bout now

  8. Joe Lewis says:

    Given that I am a metalhead that loves Lou Reed’s work, especially Velvet Underground, you’d think I was about as close to a target audience as anyone’s likely to get… and this album missed by a country mile…

    It’s certainly way over my head… I’m not sure it even hit the backboard and may have, in fact, perforated an innocent bystander’s kidney…

  9. Venus In Absentia says:

    I’m disappointed at the lack of zithers, harpsichords and mandolins.
    Not even a 20 minute kazoo solo could save this turdburger. I love it!

  10. And again, Metallica and Lou Reed don’t really give a shit about what you think.

  11. fcr says:

    what an horrible piece of crap album, metallica music needs hard work, this was just an improvisation, an awful one, with no effort on the spirit of “let it flow” that doesnt work, metallica needs conflct to make things work, just listen some demos and then the final version of some of their songs and youll see the difference, i found the idea of this collab interesting, but theres too much ego and lack of discipline tha bring us this awful amateur music..

  12. Rick says:

    I found this comment when reading Chucks not-a-music-review article on grantland, and it sums up my feelings about my own thoughts on the collaboration of giants, and also on the near hysterical reactions by music critics against it:

    “I LOVE it. And the critics, as usual, are ALREADY wrong. First of all, they, like most present day yots always have been, don’t like “music” themselves. This is proven in their general tendency to gobble ‘client facing’ ( read’: “Yay, I got to meet Motorhead once face to face for a five minute interivew and then blog for six months about it.” ) ‘ Current Musical Trend Guys’ d*ck at every turn. They rarely, if ever, have ever, EVER gotten it right when it comes to reviewing MUSIC. Read your average music review. Virtually nothing really tells you about the music, but rather it is written in a way designed to tell you what to think about the music and some sink as low as to go on about the bands clothes or what town they’re from because they can’t talk intelligently about audio engineering or bass scales or anything else that MAKES MUSIC. They’re fanboys gone bad; the frat boys who could get drunk but couldn’t get laid; and the worst part for them isn’t ‘bad’ music it’s the fact they themselves will probably never be known for much except trying to be coy and vicious at the same time about a subject they don’t really care about. Music is incidental to their own careers so a critic like this guy ( or, oddly enough, his referencing ANOTHER critic ) isn’t telling you what HE heard but what he thinks YOU should hear and how you should feel about it and why you’d be wrong to think anything else.

    Lou Reed’s fans nor he himself ever turned their backs on music nor has Metallica. And Lou well knows the pathology of the average ‘fly at the sugar’ music ‘critic’ and what drives them and it is NOT a love for music, good or bad. Both Lou and Metallica have been at music long enough to know what happens when you don’t play ball the way the game’s set up to play, but what the critic doesn’t understand is music is not the ‘game’ for them, it’s who they are.

    That is not something the ‘music critic’ actually comprehends and so will never be able to speak with ANY authority nor credibility whatsoever. When the five year ( if that ) career span of a music critic is over and they’re coming out of their own skin for committing the unforgiveable sin of aging they held against so many others; when they are waking from a pool of vomit for the third time during their week long drinking binge at the local Elks lodge; and when the doctor comes to say good-bye and walks away listening to Blue Suede Shoes as done by Current Hot Band, the music critic THEN realizes how insignificant his or her own reviews really were to begin with.

    Metallica and Lou’s work will stand for at least the life span of their own realer lives. If being liked, adored, loved, and approved of had ever been a real consideration, neither of them would have done half of what they already have. Most musicians with a modicum of talent wouldn’t, because the fact is there WILL be times you fail, there will be times you can’t find an audience, there will be times you don’t have as much money this week as you did last. THAT is the fact of music and a career in it, and it’ ain’t for the faint of heart.

    So before you read one more of these ‘critic gods in their heads, flavor of the day ball lickers’, just listen to it yourself and decide. There’s lots of tuneful, melodic cack today I find far more hateable than LuLu.

    LOTS and lots of it. Why aren’t these critics making as much effort to tear down The Strokes latest effort?

    Because they can’t keep up with this weeks crap flavored crap. So they go after a big dog, because he’s an easier target. LuLu is that big dog. It’s built by big names. With all the millions of little dogs hoarding around to be heard, it’s too much for the room temperature IQ’s of your average music critics to handle. The stress to be identifying the Next Big Thing is intense. If you’re 22 and you haven’t outed who that is by the time you’re 27, you’re finished as a music critic. You ain’t gonna be writing for RS or Pitchfork or even worse, some Brit tabloid, any time soon, that’s for sure. You’ll be too old already and 27 is over the hill in the side show act that is music critique..erm, ‘game’.

    Not to be too unduly hard on our own homegrown “wish i woulda…” critic mentality types, I can fairly say that we’ve got nothing, absolutely nothing, on how fickled and duplicitous and two faced the British ‘music critics’ are. But we’re getting there kids, we’re getting there….soon we’ll be as shallow and bankrupt of soul as the critics of their own Top of the Pops culture reflects.

    “Hurrah” for big achievements from little men…what would the rest of us bleeting sheep do without these guys around to tell us what to think, what to wear, and who to listen to?

    “Oh COME ON…you KNOW it’s crap! Just admit it…”. That used to be called what it is: coaxing and cajoling. Now it’s ‘critique’ and ‘honesty’.


    I’ve seen the live concert of LuLu and I thought it was great. Especially when Reed answers a dumb question with his typical pointed honesty by saying,”…you don’t really care about the answer.”

    Music is poetry of a type, so hearing poetry over music isn’t offensive to me. It might be to Timberlake fans though.

  13. […] Every Marilyn Manson album has had a few more songs than were necessary, and a few hard to swallow moments, and Born Villain is no exception. The Gardener opens with Manson whispering a Manson-ism: “I’m not man enough to be human, but I’m trying to fit in, and I’m learning to fake it.” This line, however, is the chorus of the song, and it would bring a more satisfying payoff without the earnest preview. There’s also the alternating verses of spoken word, where Manson is simply reading poetry loosely paced with the beat. It may be too soon after Lulu. […]

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