Trying to find an impartial standpoint when it came to reviewing this album was a bit like trying to be objective about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi –he got what he deserved, but was extra-judicial execution the right thing, even for him? In the case of the subject at hand, just because two artists have earned the right to do whatever they please, does that mean they should? No, no, a thousand times no if this turgid miasma of half-baked ideas is any indication. When I first heard about this project I knew there was going to be no middle ground here: Lulu was either going to be the best album of the year, or one of the worst. It didn’t let me down. This is one stinker of an album.
First of all – and this can’t be stressed enough – this is not a Metallica record, and no one should approach it expecting it to be anything like one. Metallica performs on this, but what they play is almost totally removed from what they’ve done previously. If it didn’t have their name on the box then, apart from the odd occasion when Hetfield’s thunderous, booming, ridiculously out-of-place voice comes bellowing forth, you would be none the wiser. Lulu is a colloborative project with Lou Reed, a man whose musical and artistic career has been informed by total indifference to any kind of commercial acceptance or interference. This dude once made a double album consisting solely of feedback, so it’s fair to say he simply doesn’t give a fuck.
Much of the early criticism of Lulu came from Metallica fans who had probably never heard of Lou Reed before and weren’t aware that his vocal style is less singing and more ranting in a raven-like, curmudgeonly croak. Of course pretty much all of that was directed at a few seconds of “The View” which really didn’t give a very good insight into this vast, misguided piece of work. Because Lulu is much, much worse than even that snippet could communicate. To adequately describe what’s gone wrong here would require the emptying-out of an entire drawer of words to describe terrible mistakes that I’ve never used before. So suffice to say that Lulu really sounds much like someone dubbed a recording of Reed ranting and raving about some kind of nightmare fuel over the top of Metallica’s unfinished art-rock album on which they struggled to keep the ideas coming and eventually just endlessly repeated themselves. There are moments where it almost all comes together, like in “Little Dog” and particularly “Iced Honey” which is semi-coherent, but those instances are rare and when something is as long as this – eighty-seven goddamn minutes – you want things to coalese a bit more often than once in a while. And while Reed’s lyrical vision is nothing short of genius – demented genius, to be more precise – and Metallica actually deserve a little credit for some of the musical moves they pull across the scope of this set, it’s difficult to suggest that Lulu is anything other than a failure on a scale rarely before seen and unlikely to be eclipsed anytime soon, unless Slayer decide to duet with Chris Martin – and probably not even then. It’sthe first time I’ve ever been glad Cliff Burton is dead, because he can’t hear this.
Reed’s fans, particularly those of his more obscure musical ventures, may find they enjoy this much more than even the most broad-minded Metallica fan. Lou Reed can get away with this, but people don’t listen to Metallica for art. If they did, S&M would be their highest-selling album. When you put on a record with Metallica’s name on it, you expect heavy metal, not pretentious art-rock bullshit. As grand a statement as this is, and as much as there is actually some amazing pieces of music on here, showing a band going way beyond anything they’ve ever done to the point of being unrecognisable most of the time, Metallica has over-reached, scrabbling for some kind of high-brow credibility they will never possess. As for Lou Reed, he probably doesn’t care. Lulu is a fascinating idea, with, it must be said, an incredible storyline, but in reality it is ill-conceived, self-indulgent, jarring, tedious, over-long and simply too bizarre to be successful. It’s a brave, strange and curious project, but in the end it’s the art-rock album the world could have done without.
1. Brandenburg Gate
2. The View
3. Pumping Blood
4. Mistress Dread
5. Iced Honey
6. Cheat on Me
2. Little Dog
4. Junior Dad