Friday, 4 November 2011

REVIEW: Lou Reed And Metallica - Lulu

When hard rock gods Metallica announced that they were working on an album with the legendary Lou Reed, no one could even begin to predict the musical outcome of this strange meeting of musical minds. So imagine the bewilderment and confusion that has greeted this 90 minute partly improvised song cycle based upon the lead character from two "sex tragedy" plays written by German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1895 and 1902. You expect this sort of thing from Reed, a man who classes his best work as an unlistenable collection of tracks made up of angle grinder abuse and severe white noise. But Metallica? Have they well and truly lost the plot? Maybe they don't give a fuck what their fans think anymore. After all these are the fans who complained when they made albums that didn't sound like the old Metallica and then still felt the need to complain when the band did go back to their vintage sound on the powerful and underrated 'Death Magnetic'. So not wanting to let outside opinions dictate the direction of their music, it seems that now is a good time for them to indulge in an unusual experimental project such as 'Lulu'.

The record throws up some enjoyably deranged moments of magic when Metallica whip up a maelstrom of fury and Reed is at full throat ranting away about violence, murder, sado-masochism, bestiality and drug abuse. But it doesn't always hit the right chord, as proved by weak opener 'Brandenburg Gate', a lumbering straining dirge where you can instantly tell how little time has been invested in these songs. So we get James Hetfield singing "small town girl" over and over again throughout while Reed rambles on and the band sound like they're churning through a messy rendition of 'Knocking On Heaven's Door'. It's certainly not a good introduction to the album musically, but lyrically it does hint at the grisly subject matters that are to feature heavily throughout this beserk and mentally disturbed record. In fact it opens with the line "I would cut my legs and tits off. When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski In the dark of the moon", and that is only a mere hint of the twisted lyrical topics that are to come. The good thing about having such an unremarkable opening track means that it's mostly uphill from there. But only occasionally, for example when Hetfield is bellowing "I am the table!!!" repeatedly over the end of 'The View' like a man possessed as the band hammer out a chunky riff delivered with brutal menace. It's one of the rare moments when all the ingredients blend brilliantly and there actually features a chorus. 

The beginning of 'Pumping Blood' also sees both Reed and Metallica applying their own strengths in unique and interesting ways. Reed's insane ranting and increasingly extreme lyrics ("if I waggle my ass like a dog prostitute would you think less of me") providing an odd companion to Metallica's music, as they build up a crushingly epic blast that progresses most impressively and includes a riff that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 'Master Of Puppets'. The band thrash out a furious thunderbolt rhythm at breakneck speed on 'Mistress Dread', a relentless and exhausting roar that showcases the band's speed and skill as well as the twisted rawness of Reed's sexually deranged lyrics. However since it runs for far too long and doesn't shift in structure at all, it soon becomes rather tiresome. 'Iced Honey' is probably the second and last of the songs here that really fit together well, and again features an actual chorus, something that is in very short supply throughout 'Lulu'.


The strings and feedback at the start of 'Cheat On Me' promise something far better than the lumpy, repetitive and completely unnecessarily overlong nonsense that follows it. Dreary sludge like this makes even 2003's 'St Anger' sound vital. It highlights one of the main problems with this album: Metallica are at their best when unleashing mighty metal epics made up of different elements which take the listener on a thrilling journey in just one song. But often on 'Lulu' the music tends to last for considerable amounts of time without really going anywhere and when the structure of a song does change, it usually descends into bursts of random noise and chaos. It certainly has none of the well-planned perfectly crafted brilliance of 2008's 'Death Magnetic', in fact in places it's more like the long winded and tiresome 'St Anger' but even more long winded and tiresome.

The satisfyingly grim 'Frustration' begins with an array of odd noises before Metallica pump out another meaty riff and Reed begins an obscene spoken word account of sexual weirdness before the rhythm breaks down into anarchy as the deranged lyrics have now turned to feelings of being "sry and spermless like a girl". After some strange backwards noise and twisted strings, the main riff re-enters about 2 minutes from the end of the track but with more power and more drive than before, providing one of the finest moments on this bizarre record. 'Little Dog' begins with brittle acoustic guitarand a half-sung vocal from Reed, but it's the wailing, weeping guitars that provide the quality. A slow steady beat and a barely audiable bass arrive as none of the seperate instruments or Reed's voice seem to follow the same rhythm, and the whole thing feels very loose indded as Reed mumbles stuff like "tell me what you want, you sniff your shit in the wind". Oddly it's one of the tracks that seems the least overlong. 'Dragon' begins with sparese feedback, guitar and more of that angry, uneasy voice before another fairly decent riff arrives and Lars demonstrates his sheer power behind the drum kit. When Reed's withered voice stumbles upon something approaching a melody, it often has no correspondence with the musical backing. 


The record is at its best when Reed is sounding off about various obscene things as the band pump out fat chugging riffs with Lars Ulrich's heavyweight thud and superb drum fills bringing a much-needed sense of airtight rhythm to this stubborn, uneasy music. Much of the record sounds like the product of improvisation and there was clearly a spirit of "catching the moment" employed druing its making. Not even the most tidy tracks sound like they took many takes to record, and I doubt very much that Metallica spent a long time painstakingly composing every part. But would you want to be the one to tell Lou Reed "I think we need to spend longer on it so it has a more defined structure and sounds more accessible"? However, that would have been missing the point of this bizarre project and it seems that both parties are enjoying the freedom and revelling in the chance to create something spontaneous and unusual.


Closing track 'Junior Dad' is a rare moment of calm and there's a welcome sense of peace about the gentle Cure-esque guitar hook. But does it REALLY need to go on for so long? Again the music is repetitive and Reed's lyrics are often stated multiple times, and it all goes too far when the guitars are cranked up and the delicacy of the track is taken away immediately. Then there follows a droning string outro which lasts for roughly 8 minutes and would have been wonderful if it was shortened. As with most of this album it would have benefitted from some serious editing.

With experimental music from a pairing such as this, perhaps it was somewhat inevitable that this piece of work would have just as many successes as it has failures. But given the nature of this album, you could probably listen to it many times and discover new bits you didn't pick up on before, but it certainly isn't instant. 6


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