This wouldn’t be the first time Metallica combined two unlikely things that didn’t go together well. Their live symphonic album, S&M, might have been well-intended, but the result was a ho-hum novelty whose monstrous length defined indulgence. Cut to 12 years later, and Metallica prove the old adage that those who do not know their history are condemned to repeat it. Lulu, their collaboration with glam rock god and ex-Velvet Underground leader Lou Reed, is like combining a mellow root beer float with a fiery spicy steak taco.
When I first heard about this collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica, I thought to myself, “What’s next? David Bowie deciding he wants to jam with Slayer?” It just seemed like such an unlikely combination that it would be hard to take their project seriously. Another possibility was that this could have been the set up for an elaborate prank pulled by musicians who themselves who were either relatively obscure or just tired of being the butt end of jokes.
Lulu is neither. While it’s no joke, it’s nothing to take seriously either. A lot of it relies on repeated phrases, both lyrically and musically. At times Metallica seem to plagiarize themselves yet again (a trend started by Death Magnetic) by having familiar riffs be the only source of inspiration in the songs. “Mistress Dread” is nothing more than a re-hash of the furious rhythm to Master of Puppets’ “Disposable Heroes.” “The View” and “Junior Dad” sound like B-sides from their Load and Reload days, and the main riff from “Dragon” borrows elements from their rendition of “Whiskey in the Jar.” This whole self-plagiarization of music is either their narcissistic tendencies allowing them to borrow from old ideas, or simply a complete lack of new ideas. Sadly, these songs are some of the only tolerable tracks on the whole album. Even St. Anger leaves stains on Lulu, as Kirk Hammett gets lost in the fury of guitar noise with James Hetfield, and rarely gets to let loose with his signature solos.
As Metallica belts out its monotonous fury, Lou Reed speaks, rasps, chokes, gurgles, cracks, wheezes, and only occasionally sings his absurd lyrics. The most laughable lyric, though, comes from Hetfield, who at one point screams, “I AM THE TABLE!” Ultimately, trying to decipher dry and confusing lyrics while the same riff is being hammered out is just asking too much, considering its overall length.
Monotony, thy name is Lulu. Clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, the 10 songs on this album average over nine minutes each. This might have worked if Metallica were creative enough to play derivatives of riffs and maybe change riffs half way through songs, but since they stuck to the same riffs throughout each song, their performance is calculated and unimaginative. As the first half of Lulu rambles on, we are grimly reminded that we are only about halfway through this journey; that the real tedium is yet to come.
The second half is arguably the tamer half as the music focuses more on atmosphere and, on occasion, avant-garde techniques that nod to early Velvet Underground. While this half can be written off as the sleeper half, under the right circumstances the droning effects can be enjoyable. While Metallica do manage to play good riffs on “Dragon” and “Junior Dad,” they’re still not likable enough to be tolerated for 11 and 19 minutes, respectively.
As “Junior Dad” slowly fades away into an endless lull of orchestral strings, we can’t help but wonder who is going to suffer more from this misadventure. Will this further plunge Metallica into fanbase hell as hardcore admirers turn against them, or will it tarnish Lou Reed’s reputation as a legendary poet that once jammed with the Velvet Underground under the wing of Andy Warhol? In certain circles, Lulu can effectively do both.
However, I’m going to throw out the possibility that maybe Lulu is just too far ahead of its time, that it will all seem right in a few years. I will also go so far as to predict that working with Reed will have an impact on Metallica and will ultimately lead to direction for them (much like how their self-titled black album marked a new chapter for the band as they began to play slower songs). Maybe we can expect more of this avant-garde approach to metal in the future from Metallica.
For now, the exact consequences of this album remain to be seen, and Loutallica just seems like a match that just wasn’t meant to be. (Colin McCallister)
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