Album Review: Lou Reed & Metallica, Lulu

Posted: November 12, 2011 in Odds and Sods

The collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica has been getting ripped savagely in most of the reviews I’ve come across.
The pre-album buzz was so bad, I almost didn’t purchase it.
I can certainly see why this album might not be many’s cup of tea.
The subject matter is dark, as it is based on 19th century plays whose main character was a former socialite turned prostitute who eventually falls in love and is murdered by Jack the Ripper. Or at least that’s what I think it’s about.
The lyrics are so graphic at times and delivered in Reed’s speaking vocal style rendering most tunes without standout melodies.
Reed has had a brilliant career, but the man can no longer sing (not that he ever was a great singer). These days, he makes Bob Dylan look like Luciano Pavarotti.
At times, it seems he was totally unaware of what Metallica was thrashing behind him, almost as if the music and vocals had been recorded completely separately and without any knowledge of where the songs were going by either parties.
Yet there are times on this album where the project shines, nowhere moreso than on the 19-minute closer (you read that right) “Junior Dad” which should take its place among Reed’s best works. On this relatively gentle number (compared to the bloodletting that preceded it), Metallica churn out a fine melodic backdrop for Reed’s somber singing (he actually does sing here, quite effectively with weary worn vocals fit for a 69-year old rock legend). The song builds gradually and ends with a nearly eight-minute orchestral drone of beautiful sounds. It’s like nothing else on the album.
Elsewhere, there are moments to recommend. Metallica is in fine playing form throughout, although some of the riffs are repeated a bit too much (probably what Reed wanted). That’s the main criticism I have of the album, other than Reed’s sometimes annoying vocals. These songs could have been chopped in half and the album would have benefitted. There was no need for this to be nearly 90 minutes long. There simply aren’t enough musical ideas here, as many of the riffs and lyrics are repeated for no apparent reason. When the songs are concise, such as the opening “Brandenburg Gate” and “Iced Honey,” the results are quite enjoyable. It’s no coincidence that on each of those tunes, James Hetfield lends his vocal chops to the proceedings to help Reed. The better idea would have been to have Hetfield take the lead on more songs, although I can’t imagine him singing things like “I beg you to degrade me? Is there waste I could eat?” like Reed does on “Mistress Dread,” a song where Metallica thrashes along like it was 1983 again.
Hetfield does sing the curious line “I am the table” in “The View,” a song I hated when I first heard it online, but has since grown on me.
This album is nowhere near as bad as people have made it out to be. It’s not a great album and certainly could have used some more editing, but it’s an interesting listen. It’s nice to see Metallica taking some chances here, and hopefully they return to the studio with more vigor having worked with one of their heroes.
If you head into this album with an open mind, there are some rewards to be found. But tread lightly, it’s not an easy listening experience.

Sod rating: ***

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