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Music Album Review: 'Lulu' by Lou Reed and Metallica

by Rui Alves 13 days ago in album reviews

The studio album 'Lulu' has iconic rocker Lou Reed joining forces with heavy metal legends Metallica

'Lulu' cover art by Metallica & Lou Reed | WB Vertigo

I believe the idea for Lulu came about after Reed and Metallica played at the 25th Anniversary of the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" in 2009 when Reed claimed that he and Metallica were made for each other.

Fans disagreed with the former Velvet Underground frontman, and the album was poorly received. However, contrary to what is abundantly circulated among the cybernauts of the press or even among the most respected critics of the heavy universe, Lulu wasn't "the worst album of the year" (even if one can admit that it was a serious candidate for the "strangest").

Lulu: Track-by-track analysis

But in fact, it's easy to admit that the acoustic introduction to the first song, "Brandenburg Gate," with Reed in a demented, almost catatonic spoken word register, risks being ranked among the worst openings ever for a heavy music album. The discourse is so tautological that Reed's babbled recording crosses the boundaries of the sufferable, settling down in the realm of the inaudible, out of tune and stripping the song of any shred of musical harmony.

The transition from acoustic to electric leads one for a moment to think that Hetfield is going to take the reins of the theme, but in fact, all Metallica's "frontman" does until the end is shout "small-town girl," while Reed lengthens the cacophony.

"The View" is a musically well-made track, with heavy and distorted riffs but utterly incompatible with Reed's voice, and it is when Hetfield takes the lead that the theme seems to take off and gain some momentum.

"Pumping Blood" is one of the rare moments in which Reed's "spoken word" register ends up working convincingly within the instrumental framework created by Metallica, perhaps because here too, we try to create the same chaos and reverie that emanates from Reed's voice, generating a hallucinated jam session effect.

"Mistress Dread" has an appealing beginning, but when Lou Reed's out-of-tune voice comes in, we realize that we are going to find just more of the same, with Reed's voice, at certain moments, going borderline ludicrous.

In "Iced Honey," there is a better fit between voice and instruments, and the song has some good melodic notes, mainly when Hetfield's voice builds the substrate for Reed during the duets in the chorus.

"Cheat On Me" embarks on the path of nihilistic experimentalism. The theme develops in an increasing degree of dynamics, starting diaphanous and ethereal but evolving towards greater organicity. The song is marked by the obsessive redundancy of the words that echo through the aggressive riffs and the crazy percussion beats, "Cheat On Me" turns out to be an interesting cathartic exercise.

"Frustration" follows the same conceptual baton. Still, it adds a little more rhythmic diversity through a not-so-fluid structure and different speeds, constantly oscillating between the experimentalism and the heavier register.

In "Little Dog" reigns the acoustic minimalism, and it's in this register that Reed's voice ends up fitting more convincingly. Devoid of any caustic boldness and stripped of extra effects, "Little Dog" is an unpretentious song that owes more to Reed's universe than Metallica.

"Dragon" is the song that seems to confer some matrix identity to this union between Lou Reed and Metallica. Reed manages to hit the problematic limbo between the sung and the spoken, and Metallica's performance is explosive and assertive, with plenty of distortion in the mix, again, jam session style.

"Junior Dad," with its "requiem" tone of perverse and grim liturgy, goes on for twenty minutes and acquires an identity of its own with magisterial dimensions. Reed finds Ariadne's thread and walks again, even if in a sometimes hesitant way, this instrumental labyrinth exemplarily woven by Metallica.

As such, Lulu owes, in its genesis, much more to Lou Reed himself than to Metallica or the protagonist of German playwright Frank Wedekind's opera. It is wrong to think that the album is a hybrid creation that meets halfway between Reed and Metallica, a kind of "Loutallica." Lulu is all about Lou, and this ends up encasing the album in an oppressive, reductive dimension.

"Pumping Blood," "Dragon" and "Junior Dad" are, however, the exception that confirms the rule and together they make what, with proper maturation, could be a genuinely original and iconoclastic musical universe resulting from the genetic combination of Metallica and Lou Reed.

Above all, one must understand that we are dealing with two musical entities that have nothing to prove, nor do they need to account for the work they do; both have reached a status that allows them to create for the simple pleasure of producing an artistic object.

Metallica will not be at all worried about the fact that Lulu sold 15,000 copies in the first week when Death Magnetic sold 49,000, i.e., it doesn't matter that Lulu doesn't sell copies, the fact is that we are still writing about the album and commenting on it, and the most remarkable artistic productions are those that inspire others to formalize an idea or an opinion.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, we can establish a parallel between Lulu and Müller no Hotel Hessischer Hof by Mão Morta (an opus equally conceptual and inspired by the work of another German playwright, Heiner Müller).

Thus, I wonder how this album would be if instead of a Lou Reed/Metallica partnership, we were facing an Adolfo Luxúria Canibal/Metallica fusion. As that probably will never happen, check out Adolfo's band, Mão Morta, playing with Moonspell.

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album reviews
Rui Alves
Rui Alves
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Rui Alves

I write to find the surrogate writer in me.

Rui is a graduate of the University of Porto, teacher, and life-coach.

He is also a partner of Rock n’Heavy and the founder of ZENite.

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