Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu (2011)


Bedarf dieses Album einer Einleitung? Viel wurde geschrieben, viel wurde kritisiert. Die Kommentare bei Youtube-Videos des Albums bringen mal wieder das Beste im Menschen zutage. Mein Senf zur Kritikbratwurst nach dem Klick.

Und oh, das Ganze ist Englisch. Das liegt daran, dass ich die Review gleichzeitig als Artikel für einen Kurs hier in den Staaten einreiche. Und das ist auch Grund für den etwas förmlicheren Stil.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is already victim to much criticism. Now Metallica fans can blame it for another perceived fauxpas: It was only after Metallica performed the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” with Lou Reed at the Hall’s 25th Anniversary that the idea of a collaborative album emerged.

Two years later, Lulu hit the stores.

There will be more Metallica fans buying the album than there will be Reed fans. It’s just their great number. And their number makes for the mass of bewildered and outraged comments when the first snippet of the album, “The View”, was posted to Youtube. What makes them so angry?

Lou Reed emerged from New York’s underground art scene in the 1960s with The Velvet Underground. Although the outfit was never commercially successful, particularly Reed as the main songwriter was credited with pushing boundaries of modern music. His output as a solo artist was instable in terms of quality, but always high-aiming in terms of aspiration.

Metallica came to fame with a series of albums in the 1980s. The band is one of the Big Four thrash metal bands that acted as an antithesis to the obnoxious Glam Metal of Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, and the likes. Against hairspray, spandex and stadium rock, Metallica set jeans, T-shirts and uncompromising metal. The 1990s and early 2000s saw some style changes unloved by many fans, but their 2008 album Death Magnetic set things straight again.

How do these musicians fit together? Well, they don’t. At least not in the conventional sense. And to be clear: Die-hard metal fans will hate Lulu because it is a Lou Reed album. Reed had already written all the songs when he brought Metallica into the album for the music, and his avant-garde approach to music is hardly compatible with straightforward metal lovers.

Lou Reed was inspired by a series of plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind. Reaching the height of his fame at the turn of the 19th century, Wedekind criticized bourgoise hypocrisy and heaved sexual indecencies on his works. To a casual listener, this might be the reason Reed’s lyrics range from confusing to vulgar. But Lulu is not an album for casual listeners anyway.

The only truly melodic moment of the album is its very beginning. The acoustic guitar leading into “Brandenburg Gate” soon turns into something that sounds like a four-and-half-minute long outro of one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s worse songs. But Lulu’s opener gives an overview of the 90 minutes to come: Lou Reed screeching out monologues about humanity’s darker sides, Metallica’s rhythm section only present to provide heavy and heavily repetitive riffs, grinding like a rock slip, James Hetfield’s voice only audible on every other song in short outbursts of his signature growl.

At first, the songs sound like Lou Reed got his hands on a Metallica demo sans vocals and decided to spew some poetry over it. His ramblings from a young, sexually confused woman’s perspective do create an eerie, uneasy atmosphere. But his simple choice of words and their repetition could well be boring, especially as he manages to maintain an 11-minute song on 24 lines and the hardly philosophical question of “why do I cheat on me?”

Luckily, Metallica’s well-versed riff-production machinery builds a musical counterpart. Although it’s usually just two or so riffs per song, they strengthen Reed’s efforts more naturally than another line of “I wish there was a strap of blood that you could kiss away” could ever do. And that’s what Metallica should have stuck to. But James Hetfield’s occasional vocals remind the listener too harshly that it’s Metallica that only provides the background noise; the same Metallica that once revolutionized metal.

The guitars mostly are a fallback into the unloved mid-‘90s Load-days – slow and simple. An exception is “Mistress Dread”, whose high-speed one-bar shred riff is taken straight from 1984’s “Trapped Under Ice”. And whereas Reed has occasionally proved on former records that he is able to sing, he just does not do it on Lulu. Sometimes his voice slips from its monotonous tone, but these incidents are rare and, to speculate, coincidental. Background instruments like violins, the obscure continuum, and most often, guitar feedback noises, support the atmosphere.

The unexpected thing is that at a certain point, everything starts coming together. That point will not be the first listen, and maybe not the fifth. But it’s sure to come for the open-minded listener.

Although it follows the loudness trend, the production is impeccable and has nothing to do with producer Rick Rubin’s noise war on Metallica’s Death Magnetic. It’s almost impossible to point out a single best or worst song on these seemingly endless 90 minutes, but one of the most harmonious songs is “Iced Honey”. It has a riff that constantly changes mood, and even if Reed doesn’t actually sing, he does stress syllables and modulates his voice. This is worth pointing out. Also worth noting is the downbeat, acoustic “Little Dog”, for the pause it provides from the constant riff onslaught. “Cheat On Me”, to the contrary, is barely listenable to due to its lack of ideas and excruciating lyrical repetition.

Whoever listened to Reed’s Metal Machine Music and not Sally Can’t Dance could have known that Lulu won’t be Reed’s simple rock, but an artistic, aloof experiment. The album fits into Reed’s career, but not at all into Metallica’s. And it’s their popularity that might be damaged for it. Which is inappropriate: Lulu is art. It’s almost inaccessible for the common Metallica fan – as well as for the common record buyer, at that. But the fact that Metallica decided to run that risk contributes to their artistic integrity. Everybody has to decide for themselves if the album is good art or bad art, but it’s certainly not your everyday mainstream record. And yet it gets to the point where these songs haunt you and won’t leave your head.






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Eine Antwort to “Lou Reed & Metallica – Lulu (2011)”

  1. Texas Says:

    Metallica should stay on the wild side ;-)
    (Habe das Album leider noch nicht gehört :( )

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