Album Review: Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu

Lou Reed & Metallica [USA]
Lulu
2011
Full Length
Warner Brothers
Heavy Metal

Ever since their last proper thrash/heavy metal album in the form of 1991’s eponymous album, Metallica has been going downhill, first with their attempts at hard rock with the Load/Reload albums before finally going “back to their original form” with 2008’s Death Magnetic. While Death Magnetic wasn’t exactly what a die hard fan of Metallica‘s earlier works would consider a return to form per se when compared to masterpieces like Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning, this was certainly an indication of a move towards the right direction.

Things started looking up until the band’s announcement of a collaboration project with famed rock singer/songwriter Lou Reed, which left followers scratching their head, wondering what this collaboration would result in. Right from the start, this smelled almost like a quick cash-grab strategy, what with the high profile announcements and the numerous dramatic narrations of behind-the-scenes incidents that displayed the apparently weak and human side of Metallica guitarist James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, with each of them being “brought to tears” during the recording of Junior Dad. The eventual release of the album brought about sharp criticisms, especially in the metal scene. Nevertheless, the optimistic side of me decided to take the risk and find out what the big hoo-ha was all about.

Lulu opens with a somewhat bluesy feel with Brandenburg Gate, and this is certainly uncharacteristic of Metallica, and with the opening moments one almost feels threatened with the possibility of this being an entirely acoustic album with no rock instrumentals. Fortunately soon the electric guitars and drums come in, but this silver lining lasts for only a slight moment as Lou Reed begins his rants about whatever, going on and on like a bitter old man, while James Hetfield does nothing but shouts “small-town girl” at the background, sounding like a broken record. Even when Lou Reed attempts to sing, there are moments when he sounds almost as if he were struggling to keep a pitch, and for the most part sound out of tune. And this goes on for almost the entirety of the album. Thanks Lou Reed, for offering to tell me your life story and your random rants, but no thanks. At least do this in a more interesting format if you really have to let me know what you’ve been through in the past 60 odd years of your life. The extent of annoyance from his vocals is such that even the unimpressive vocals of James Hetfield suddenly sounds extremely welcome.

Sure, there are heavy metal moments such as those on The View and the few chugging riffs on Pumping Blood, but for the most part of the album the riffs presented are repetitive and lack any sense of creativity, and it sounds as if the band had run out of songwriting ideas. Even the few lead lines on the album are extremely emotional, sounding more like what pop-punk bands would write instead. The attempts to include other stringed classical instruments like those on Pumping Blood instantly remind me of the abomination that is S&M, only that this is infinitely worse (and it doesn’t help that Lou Reed sounds as if he were struggling to keep up with the rhythm). Pumping Blood also sees the band attempting a more metal style, but this fails badly, with the entire band just sounding totally incoherent towards the end of the song, with Lars going trigger-happy behind his kit. Mistress Dread also contains some thrash metal moments at the beginning of the song, and as usual, Lou Reed has to come in and further spoil the entire thing (though there’s nothing particularly special about the instrumentals as well) and ends up making the song sound like a bad karaoke session. The only decent track is perhaps Iced Honey, and the song is hardly even “heavy”, so to speak, and could have worked as a pop-rock track instead, and Frustration contains quite a number of decent riffs as well, but that is about all that is good that is offered on Lulu.

As if the 4 minute Brandenburg Gate weren’t bad enough, the album is plagued by tracks that start getting longer from the middle of the album onwards, prolonging the suffering that the listener has to go through. In particular, Cheat on Me have an unnecessary and extremely long intro, leaving the listener to become bored easily and Little Dog ends up sounding pretty pointless and gets nowhere. Dragon takes too long to build up for only a short moment of slight Death Magnetic-styled satisfaction and Junior Dad, while being one of the more bearable tracks initially, end up dragging on for far too long.. I know, I know, it’s not nice to laugh at such a “sincere” record, but Lulu certainly sounds like an overdone April Fools’ prank to longtime fans of Metallica. Many bands progress over the years, but this? This is regression, not progression. Much as the band talks about how this is the “best damn thing ever written”, they can live in their own little cocoon. It still leaves me wondering how I managed to sit through the entire whole 1 and a half hour.

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©2012 Heavy Metal Tribune | Hong Rui

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