When I first learned that Lou Reed and Metallica had released an album together, I was no less than flooded with a slew of conflicting emotions. Some of the dialogue that went through my mind looked like this: Lou Reed? Yes! I love Lou Reed. Wait…Metallica? What the fuck. The cover art is scary. Is that written in blood? What is going on. Lou Reed and Metallica? Why. I wonder who solicited whom. It is “whom,” right? But seriously, why? I’m scared.
And then I listened to the album and my fears were confirmed. Well, actually, I listened to the iTunes samples of the album. Why would I do that, you might ask. Initially, there was no real reason, but after having listened to the album through on the samples, I have a hunch that there is not much that I missed, despite the fact that two of the tracks are over ten minutes long and one of the tracks is almost twenty. Actually, I’m glad that I didn’t have to listen to the whole album. Now, join me on the iTunes samples tour of _Lulu._
We begin with the opening track, “Brandenburg Gate.” The first impression is terrible. Metallica frontman James Hetfield sings the words “small town girl” over a distorted guitar mush of I-V-IV chords repeatedly for the entire minute-and-a-half sample, while Lou Reed sings over it. The next track, “The View,” sounds like one of two possible situations: either 1) Reed is at a Metallica concert with me and trying to yell something to me over the music, or 2) Lou Reed did in fact record this song with Metallica, but he recorded his vocals without listening to Metallica’s track, possibly without ever hearing the song before. Our third track, “Pumping Blood,” sounds like a creation of a metal band of thirteen-year-old boys, until it starts to get interesting in the last nine seconds of the sample—guitar and drums drop out, leaving Reed’s vocals alone with the bass, hinting at something intriguing. And then the sample ends and I have to move on. On track four, “Mistress Dread,” both Metallica and Reed seem to have abandoned tonality altogether. Either that, or Reed again recorded his vocals without any knowledge of the instrumental content. Our fifth track, “Iced Honey,” is the most instrumentally melodic track so far, but still lacks originality. In track six, “Cheat on Me,” there is some lyrical confusion that renders the song content-less. There seems to be some confusion about who is doing the cheating—both Reed and Hetfield alternate between singing “Why do I cheat on myself / Well I got nobody else” and “Why do you cheat on me,” and that’s all that happens for the entire sample. Track seven, “Frustration,” sounds like an old man complaining about “that rock and roll music the kids are listening to,” possibly in a “cutting-edge” musical about metal. Then we get to track eight, “Little Dog,” the best song so far on the album for two reasons: 1) the lyrics are more subtle, more poetic, and 2) Metallica backed off with the instrumentation, providing a more sparse and varied texture to accent the vocals. “Little Dog” has an intriguing, dark, moody sound. Track nine, “Dragon,” features Hetfield on vocals, with ineffective lyrics that make no grammatical sense, but instead are just a string of seemingly unrelated angry words and phrases. The lyrics sound improvised in a bad way. The final track, “Junior Dad,” is surprising and completely different from the rest of the album. In this song, Metallica finally calmed down, stopped shitting their pants with riffs, and made a great, slow, sparse track with Lou Reed, more reminiscent of Reed’s work with the Velvet Underground. If the album had a saving grace, this would be it.
But alas, even a great final track can’t save _Lulu._ Overall, the music in this album has no connection to the lyrics whatsoever, and Reed’s style is poorly suited for Metallica’s. On this album, Reed did what he likes to do, Metallica did what they like to do, and there was nothing in between. It sounds like Lou Reed doing spoken word while a Metallica album plays in the background. There seems to be no integration between Reed and Metallica; neither party departs from its own style enough to make the collaboration worthwhile. Even in “Little Dog” or “Junior Dad,” the reason I liked these songs was because they sounded the most like what I believe to be the genius of Lou Reed. In an ideal collaboration, the musicians come together and adapt their respective styles to come up with something different that transcends both styles. _Lulu_ falls flat on this front. As an album and as a collaboration, _Lulu_ fails overall to deliver quality music and to bridge the gap between these two relatively disparate artists. Lou Reed, Metallica, better luck next time. Or better yet, just don’t try this again.