Lou Reed and Metallica hit a sour note on 'Lulu'

Warner Bros.

By Andrew Eckhous, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 30, 2011

Lou Reed’s (The Velvet Underground) signature growl and candid, poetic lyrics. Metallica’s sinister riffs and aggressive sound. These characteristics have sent rock in two vastly different directions. Reed’s honesty and controversial topics have influenced generations of avant-garde and creative musicians, and Metallica is considered one of the best metal bands of all time.

Lou Reed and Metallica


Lulu
Warner Bros.


Both have influenced countless musicians to pick up a guitar and wear a lot of black, but when Lou Reed and Metallica announced they were making the album Lulu together, no one was sure how the end product would sound. These legends have captained the ever-growing, never-changing cruise ship known as rock‘n’roll for decades, but would their sounds complement each other like guitar and bass, or would ego prevail?

“Brandenburg Gate,” the opening track, quickly answers all questions with a resounding groan. Singing stream-of-consciousness lyrics over naked chords for a brief moment, Reed’s wistful ruminations are endearing and lighthearted. However, powerful Metallica guitars quickly break his pensive concentration, drowning out Reed’s words with a thunderous riff and Metallica lead singer James Hetfield’s dramatic background vocals. After listening to “Brandenburg Gate,” it becomes clear Lulu is going to be worth less than the sum of its parts.

Simply put, Lulu doesn’t do either act justice. Lou Reed and Metallica recording together sounds like a misguided Girl Talk effort, and it’s hard to listen to. Neither seems comfortable with the other’s style, as they often impose themselves unnaturally and play over each other. The concept is noble — both seem eager to expand their musical horizons — but it just doesn’t work.

Upon first hearing Lulu, it seems neither group can divorce itself from its ego, but in reality, they just don’t know how to make their styles sync. The album runs an absurd 90 minutes over only 10 tracks, and combines elements that should never meet. On “Cheat On Me,” an 11-minute ramble, Reed spends the first five minutes pontificating quietly about his self-destructive tendencies but is rudely interrupted by Metallica’s out-of-place anger. Not only does the metal cause Reed’s thoughts to become secondary, but also Hetfield’s over-the-top backup vocals turn “Cheat On Me” into a joke. Reed’s soft yet powerful voice cannot match the dominance of thrash metal, a constant flaw on Lulu.

Though rare, there are moments when Reed and Metallica’s techniques intertwine smoothly. “Frustration” alternates between harsh, metal guitars and eerie feedback, suiting Reed’s roars of aggravation and conviction. However, the album quickly returns to delusions of grandeur. Hetfield and Metallica are relegated to thrash metal backup singers, and Lou Reed seems disoriented to be around so much noise.

Reed and Metallica have been called geniuses, visionaries and a bounty of other compliments they fully deserve. However, when someone finally gets around to building them the shrines they rightfully merit, make sure to put some distance between the two. Lulu is not a complete failure, and it shouldn’t deter either artist from more experimentation. But for future reference, putting two titans of music on the same album doesn’t necessarily make for an instant classic.