Album review – Lou Reed & Metallica: Lulu

A double dose of heavyweight, heavy metal came in to close the end of last month, and it was my intention here to talk about Megadeth‘s latest album as they need more kudos than the other band, but the problem with Megadeth is that they don’t really present a problem, not lately anyway. Purchase a ‘deth record and it’s like buying a burger from a familiar restaurant: you know the taste, you know that it’s going to be satisfactory and you know they won’t return to their briefly modified recipe as it didn’t work out for them.

The same is not true for Metallica. You loved the original recipe but many know that they won’t get the original taste, yet still we open up the bun and examine what’s in there. Talking about Metallica is more interesting because you can only give straightforward praise to Megadeth’s ‘Thirteen’.

‘Lulu‘, if you’re not aware, is not a typical Metallica record. It’s a project they recorded over a few weeks with Lou Reed about the life of some German dancer (there is some story about this but it never stuck with me and it’s not clear from the lyrics). The lyrics are all written by Lou, with the band providing the music and a bit of backing vocals by James Hetfield. Most reviews have been very critical, and certainly, ‘Lulu’ does seem like an indulgent project. It looks good on the CVs of both artists that an odd-pairing worked together.

Like the average Metallica fan (I have supported them through some dreary releases), I’m not that familiar with Lou Reed, but given that Metallica’s symphonic collaboration with composer Michael Kamen in the late 90s pulled off well (‘S&M’), I wasn’t too put off by news of this experiment. It was made clear that this is not a traditional Metallica record so it doesn’t have to taint their pure discography, and with the album’s direction seeming to be mostly Lou’s, you could blame him for a bad product.

When I first heard ‘Lulu’ (streamed online for free) I wasn’t very impressed. It sounded as if two separate acts were doing their own thing in adjacent studios and someone had placed a recorder in the adjoining wall. Lou Reed was listlessly talking over some uninspired music, sometimes drawn out for more than ten minutes for no good reason. A subsequent listen made me feel it was not too bad but then I hated it on a few more, eventually settling on that I respect the spirit of it.

Not too much works, but had they settled for making a single or EP they could’ve got away from the knives of journalists and fans. What works is that it is quite a creepy album. There are other musicians on it and they add a sort of horror-film atmosphere. While I cannot really follow the narrative of ‘Lulu’ (indeed, Lou’s voice often gets buried in Metallica’s classic din), when something does register with my ear it’s quite disturbing. Hearing a 70yr old man obsessing like a pervert about or as Lulu is quite uncomfortable, but Lou is known for being edgy and that’s what makes it dramatic. The music isn’t very technical but there’s times when the weight works. The two best songs to me are Mistress Dread and Dragon. The former is early 80s Metallica – albeit as one repeated riff – with eery bits of noise as solos, while the latter merges the fire and brimstone of Black Sabbath, topped off perfectly by the slimy narration of Lou Reed.

This isn’t an album I’d want to play over and over and I hope that we never hear this stuff live, but if we accept it as a ‘fun experiment’ to keep peoples’ bellies full ’til the next main course of pure Metallica it’s ‘alright’. I hope they don’t do something like this again but it’s a curious car crash that isn’t quite as bad as some people make out. I don’t think it’s as bad as ‘St. Anger’. More odd, yes, but this does have some charm if you divorce it from the names that produced it. Funnily, I bet the people who might ‘get’ this release the most are probably people who like neither Metallica or Lou Reed.

5.5/10.

Suggestion: ‘Lulu EP’, buy 4 tracks from a download store at an average of 79p each to spend £3.16:
1. Mistress Dread, 2. Cheat On Me, 3. Dragon, 4. Junior Dad.
…If you want to just get an A and B-side, try, Cheat On Me and Dragon.

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